Iran's judiciary spokesman said Tuesday that an eight-year jail term for an American journalist may be reconsidered on appeal, an indication her sentence will be commuted.
Ali Reza Jamshidi's statement was a rare prediction about a case from the judiciary and was the latest hint Iran could be backing off from the imprisonment of 31-year-old Roxana Saberi on charges of spying for the U.S.
The case has been a source of tension with the U.S. at a time when President Barack Obama is trying to open a dialogue with Iran in an effort to end the decades-long diplomatic standoff. The U.S. has called the accusations against Saberi, a dual American-Iranian citizen, baseless and has demanded her release.
"We can't influence the judge's verdict (but hope) the verdict will be reconsidered at the appeals court," the official IRNA news agency quoted Jamshidi as saying.
Meanwhile, Iran's Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi revealed more details about the case Tuesday, saying Saberi was interrogated by counterespionage experts before her case was referred to the court.
"Initial investigation was carried out by an expert on security and counterespionage affairs at the Intelligence Ministry," IRNA quoted Ejehi as saying. "The expert presented a report to the judiciary. The court investigated the report and found her guilty."
Ejehi said Saberi worked as an Iranian national and never asked to operate as an American journalist.
"Saberi didn't use her non-Iranian nationality. She entered Iran as an Iranian with an Iranian passport," he was quoted by IRNA as saying.
Saberi, who was born in the United States and grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She received Iranian citizenship because her father was born in Iran.
Jamshidi said Saberi's lawyer appealed the initial the verdict, and the ruling by the appeals court will be final. "Whatever judgment the appeals court will issue will be final and the basis for implementation," IRNA quoted him as saying.
Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered a full investigation Monday into Saberi's case a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran's chief prosecutor urging him to ensure Saberi be allowed a full defense during her appeal.
Saberi was convicted of espionage last week after a one-day trial behind closed doors. She was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation against her earlier this month, charging her with spying for the United States.
An Iranian investigative judge involved in the case has charged that Saberi had passed classified information to U.S. intelligence services. The Saberi's parents and the U.S. have denied that Saberi was a spy.