TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian court will hear the appeal of an American journalist convicted of spying for the United States next week and will open the proceedings to experts from the country's bar association, the judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.
The advance notice was the latest sign that Iran may be trying to lower tensions with the U.S. over the case, after Washington called the charges against 32-year-old Roxana Saberi "baseless."
Iran has already given several indications it is making an effort to conduct the appeal more openly than the trial itself, which was only revealed days after the fact, took place behind closed doors and, according to the journalist's father, lasted only about 15 minutes. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked judicial authorities to ensure Saberi is allowed a full defense at the appeal, and Iranian officials have several times reiterated that call for a full review of the case.
The case has been a source of tension between Washington and Iran at a time when the Obama administration has said it wants to start a dialogue with its longtime adversary. The United States has called for the release of Saberi, a dual Iranian-American citizen who was born in the U.S. and raised in Fargo, North Dakota.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Tuesday that Saberi remains a great concern and the U.S. is worried about her health. He said authorities are trying to get more information about her.
"It's very troubling. And we're working hard to try to do what we can," he said.
Saberi was convicted last month of passing intelligence to the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison. Her father says she has been on a hunger strike for two weeks.
But judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi reiterated Iran's denial Tuesday that she is on a hunger strike.
"She is in good health and not on a hunger strike. Physically, she is in good shape too," he told a news conference.
In announcing the appeal hearing, Jamshidi said Iran would open the proceedings to bar association experts.
"Her case has been referred to an appeals court where it is being studied. A date has been set for next week," Jamshidi said, without specifying the exact date.
Saberi's Iranian-born father said she was briefly hospitalized on Friday in Evin prison, where she has been held since her arrest in January. The father, Reza Saberi, said she began the hunger strike April 21 and that she was weak. Reporters Without Borders said Monday that her father said she was taken to a prison clinic after she intensified her hunger strike to refuse water in addition to food.
The group said she was released from the clinic after again drinking water.
Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.
Iranian authorities had initially accused her of working without press credentials, but later made the more serious espionage charge.