[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/05/11/iran.analysis.amanpour.saberi/art.journalist.gi.jpg caption="Roxana Saberi stopped her hunger strike last week after her parents visited her in prison."]
CNN Senior Middle East Affairs Editor
A collective sigh of relief was almost audible this morning as the news started seeping in about the “imminent” release of Roxana Saberi. Now she’s free, her sentence reduced from eight years in jail to a two-year suspended sentence. Her father said she’ll be heading back to the U.S. but the world waits to hear directly from her about her plans and the past few months which captured their attention.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Saberi has lived in Iran since 2003 and reported for international news organizations, including National Public Radio, the BBC and ABC News until her press credentials were revoked in 2006. NPR officials say she continued to file short news items for them. Although Saberi was arrested in February for working in the country without appropriate accreditation, she wasn’t charged formally until a one-day closed trial in April. That’s when Iran’s judiciary charged Saberi of espionage and convicted her to eight years in prison. "Without press credentials and under the name of being a reporter, she was carrying out espionage activities," Hassan Haddad, a deputy public prosecutor, told the Iranian Student's News Agency. On the internet, thousands of people showed support for Saberi and her plight. Information was shared and distributed on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. People desperately asked for updates when a period passed without any.
In the Middle East, the story made headlines. Commentators tried to make sense of this bizarre story. Questions were asked, “Why would an American reporter continue to file news reports out of Iran, if she knew that her press pass was expired?” asked one Arab network anchor on a show dedicated to the subject. Answers were very hard to come by since Iranian officials didn’t make any statements and Saberi’s lawyer and father were focused only on her release.
Now that Roxana Saberi is free, the focus shifts to explaining what her release means. The Iranian English language state-run Press TV, citing "officials close to the case," reports that the suspended sentence "will be automatically abolished if Saberi shows no unlawful conduct in the next five years." She won’t be permitted to work in Iran for five years, said the Press TV reporter. “She can live here if she chooses to and at the end of the five years it will be up to her whether she wants to work in Iran or not.”
With Saberi’s sudden release, readers flocked to news web sites with a mixed bag of reactions. On Al-Arabiya’s website, there was a sense of admiration for the United States as a country for rallying behind one of their own. “From their President on down, everybody pressed for her release” said one comment. Another questioned Iran’s “ulterior motives behind the arrest, conviction and release.” One reaction read, “All this is acting and theatrics as some unknown deal was undoubtedly reached between Iran and the U.S. This reporter was only a tool.” Still others hailed what they described as Iran’s efficient judicial system calling it “transparent and independent.”
In this story there seems to be only winners. Roxana Saberi won her freedom. The Obama administration should be relieved that one hurdle is out of the way in its Iran relations. Perhaps the biggest winner of all is Iran, which by a stroke of luck or design got the world’s approval just this once. Something the Islamic Republic hasn’t enjoyed in a long time.
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