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Jailed Journalist Leaves Iranian Prison

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. After four months in an Iranian prison, American journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed. She was convicted last month of spying and given a sentence of eight years. Today, an appeals court in Iran reduced that sentence and commuted it. This story is still developing. We do know that Roxana Saberi has been released from Evin prison, where she was being held.

NPR's Tom Gjelten is following this story, and joins us now. And Tom, what's the latest?

TOM GJELTEN: Well, Renee, we spoke to one of Roxana's attorneys a short time ago, and he told us that Roxana, at that moment, was on her way to her family's apartment in Tehran with her father. Now, we understand from other people in Tehran that traffic in Tehran is pretty tough, as you can imagine, and it could take as much as an hour for her to make that drive from the prison to her family's apartment. We don't know if she has arrived at the apartment yet. The attorney had not himself seen Roxana. We are waiting for further confirmation that she has, in fact, arrived at her apartment.

MONTAGNE: And Roxana's father, Reza Saberi, has been speaking to reporters there in Tehran today. What has he been saying?

GJELTEN: That's right, Renee. I think this was before he saw Roxana. Among the reporters he spoke to was someone from the BBC. And here's what he said in response to a question about when they would be leaving Iran.

Mr. REZA SABERI: Not today, but pretty soon. We don't know yet. We have to make some arrangements yet.

GJELTEN: So apparently, they're planning to leave Iran soon, but not today. He was also asked about Roxana's physical condition, and here's what he said about that.

Mr. SABERI: She's in good condition, and we are very happy that they gave us such a (unintelligible).

GJELTEN: And that's Roxana's father, speaking to reporters today in Tehran, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now her release came as something of a surprise. How did that come about?

GJELTEN: Well, we don't know that, Renee. We do know that she was scheduled for an appeal. She was a - she had a hearing yesterday before an appeals court in Tehran. And actually, the date of that hearing was moved up by a couple of days, which I think suggested to some people that, in fact, the authorities in Iran were rethinking what to do. There was, of course, tremendous pressure on the Iranian government to release Roxana Saberi. And we don't know, but there was clearly here a decision by the authorities that Roxana Saberi should be released, and it happened very quickly, didn't it?

MONTAGNE: And speaking with NPR's Tom Gjelten about the release of Roxana Saberi - just why don't you, for just a moment, give us a little recap of how it even came to this?

GJELTEN: Well, Renee, Roxana Saberi, of course, is a journalist. She's filed for NPR, among other news organizations. She was in Tehran working on a book, we understand, from her father. She is an Iranian-American with duel nationality. In January, she was arrested, allegedly for buying alcohol. Then there was additional charges added later on. She was charged with reporting without press credentials. And then finally, last month, she was convicted of espionage, of spying for the United States. The United States said those charges were baseless, but they did result in a very serious sentence of eight years.

MONTAGNE: Now, one thing: This case developed as the Obama administration was reaching out to Iran, then this case sort of came into the picture. President Obama himself called for her release. Is it too early to assess the impact on U.S. relations with Iran, both that it happened and that now she's been released?

GJELTEN: Well, it certainly is a good sign. I think what we can say is that her continued detention would certainly have been a barrier to better relations between the United States and Iran. We can't say that this alone is going to make much of a difference in terms of that relationship, but it certainly can't hurt, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GJELTEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten on news today that journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed from prison. We'll continue to bring you news as we learn more, and you can keep up with developments at our Web site: npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.