The case of Roxana Saberi, which I discussed briefly two weeks ago, has experienced some swift and worrying developments in the last couple of days.  Yesterday Saberi was found guilty of espionage by a Revolutionary Court and sentenced to eight years in prison.  The case has created some serious complications for the already complicated budding relationship between the United States and Iran.

Saberi was arrested three months ago, originally charged with buying alcohol.  She was then accused of continuing to work as a journalist after her press credentials had been revoked.  Just last week the charges were changed to the much more serious accusation of espionage and by yesterday the trial was held and the sentence of eight years in prison had been given.  This “trial”, however, was held in secret and only included written evidence which Saberi’s father claims she was tricked into giving.  Neither Saberi or her lawyer were given time to prepare her defense.

Saberi’s conviction has revealed divisions within the Islamic Republic.  President Ahmadinejahd has written a letter to the head of the Iranian judiciary, asking that Saberi be allowed to offer a full defense in her appeal.  Sergey Barseqian notes that the case “shows that the judiciary and Ahmnadinejad have not reached an agreement over ties with the West”.  While Ahmadinejahd clearly wants to continue to be open to American overtures, it would appear that hardliners within the judiciary are wary of any sort of détente.  Some have even suggested that Iranian officials are planning to negotiate Saberi’s release for the release of five Iranian men captured by American authrities in Iraq.

Regardless, it is clear that Saberi’s case is more of a political statement than a judicial proceeding.  The timing of the whole affair seems very odd to me: Saberi was arrested three months ago, why have a such a hurried and clearly unfair trial right now?  Are some Iranian officials trying to use the case to gain leverage in any eventual negotiations with the U.S.? Are they trying to influence the political culture within Iran, in hopes of affecting the outcome of the June 12th presidential elections?  I don’t know.  But it saddens and frustrates me to think that whoever is trying to make such a political statement is doing so with a young woman’s life.

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