Iran: Alleged Spy Finally Released

In a move that has given Obama, Clinton and the Saberi family immense cause for relief, Iran reduced and suspended Iranian-American reporter Roxana Saberi’s prison sentence, releasing her from prison in Tehran today.

Originally doomed to spend eight years behind bars for reportedly spying on Iran for the U.S., the Tehran court that heard her appeal on Sunday acted just as quickly as the court that originally convicted her in a one-day closed trial.

Her parents and a sizeable crowd of reporters awaited her release in front of the Evin prison in Tehran, but she was let out a back door and understandably whisked to her home in the north of Tehran, where she plans to recuperate before returning to the U.S. in the next few days. Her father Reza says she is in good health.

Roxana SaberiSaberi’s sentence was reduced to two years, and even though it was only just suspended, she is free to leave Iran as soon as she wants to. If she doesn’t commit a crime within the next five years, the sentence will expire and she won’t have to serve any additional prison time.

It turns out Iranian intelligence officers were perturbed by a trip she had taken to Israel, but Saberi was able to persuade the judge that her visit had no questionable intent. According to Saberi’s lawyer, the turning point was the defense’s emphasis on the fact that the U.S. and Iran are not at war, as Roxana was convicted of espionage for an enemy country with which Iran is at war.

Her sentence was reduced in accordance with her lesser crime as defined in Article 505 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which rather vaguely states that anyone who gathers classified info and distributes it with the intention of adversely affecting national security is committing a crime.

Why Iran opted for leniency, releasing Roxana without having her serve the albeit reduced sentence, remains a bit of a mystery. The most obvious explanation, and one that has been confirmed by a TIME anonymous source, is that someone high up pulled a few strings. As the source told TIME, “The government simply did not want to have this hugely sensationalized and publicized case hovering over it right before the elections. Ahmadinejad asked [Judiciary Chief Mahmoud Hashemi] Shahroudi to put an end to this.”

Other foreign journalists held in Tehran prisons on similarly flimsy accusations have not been so lucky. Not having received the same media attention Saberi got, they are still incarcerated. Although it looked for a while like U.S. pressure was losing its edge, it seems to have done the trick with no-longer-spy Roxana Saberi.

Even though she’s been released, many still point to the trumped up espionage charges, wondering whether the whole episode was a carefully planned political gimmick.

photo courtesy of TIME (UPI/Landov)

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