(New York) - The conviction in an Iranian court of journalist Roxana Saberi on charges of espionage followed a fast-track, closed-door proceeding that gave her lawyer no opportunity to prepare a defense or adequately represent her, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 18, 2009, a court sentenced Saberi to eight years in prison.
"Saberi's 11 weeks of detention and one-day trial are tainted by a complete lack of transparency," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "This was a travesty of justice even by Iran's poor standards."
Iranian authorities accused Saberi, a 31-year-old Tehran freelancer for National Public Radio and ABC Radio, of using her journalistic activities as a cover for spying for the United States.
Authorities detained Saberi on January 30 in Tehran, alleging she had purchased alcohol, Saberi's father told Human Rights Watch. They refused her access to her family or a lawyer for nearly two weeks; on February 10 they allowed her a brief supervised phone call to her family in North Dakota. For the next two weeks, authorities also denied her any outside contact until her family publicly disclosed her detention on March 1. Over the following days, her family engaged a lawyer on her behalf, Samad Khorramshahi, who was able to visit her for the first time on March 8.
The deputy prosecutor of Iran's Revolutionary Court announced on April 8 that Saberi had been charged with espionage. Later, just days before the trial on April 14 and more than 10 weeks after her arrest, her lawyer was officially provided the charge sheet.
Iranian laws and criminal procedures require that authorities inform suspects of the charges against them within 24 hours of their detention, Human Rights Watch said.
"Basic elements of a fair trial are the right to have your trial in public, and to have adequate representation," Stork said. "The Revolutionary Court failed to give Saberi either."
Saberi's lawyer has announced that he will appeal the sentence.