WASHINGTON -- The U.S. on Wednesday appealed to Iran to free an American journalist and a U.S. aid agency worker who both are jailed on national security charges and appealing their convictions.
Harotonian is an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent who was helping run a maternal and child health project for the U.S.-based International Research and Exchanges Board. Her lawyers planned to file a second appeal in her case Thursday; a first one was denied in March.
"We understand her second appeal is pending and that she is in poor and deteriorating health as a direct consequence of her confinement," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "We once again urge Iran's leadership to grant the release of Ms. Harotonian. The charges against her are without foundation."
The 34-year-old Harotonian, who was arrested in June, was convicted of attempting to foster a "soft" or "velvet revolution." She was sentenced in January to three years in prison.
Her employer said Wednesday that she was not involved in any political movements and had "never acted with harmful intentions toward Iran."
"We're devastated and heartbroken and can't understand why something that was so modest and noncontroversial could be construed in this way," said Paige Alexander, the board's vice president.
Iranian judicial officials said they expect to hear an appeal next week in the case of Saberi, 32. She is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who was convicted last month of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day, closed-door trial.
Wood said Iran has not responded to repeated requests for information about Saberi. Her father said Wednesday that she had ended a two-week hunger strike for health reasons.
"We hope that this process is very transparent and open," he said. "But again, we believe that the charges against here are baseless, without foundation, and we want to see her released so that she can rejoin her family."
Saberi's case has been an irritant in U.S.-Iran relations at a time when the Obama administration has said it wants to engage its longtime adversary in a dialogue. The case has also drawn the concern of press freedom groups.