Iran denies jailed US journalist on hunger strike

Judiciary official says Roxana Saberi, imprisoned for allegedly spying for the US, is in "good condition."

An Iranian judiciary official denied that an American journalist jailed in Iran for allegedly spying for the US is on a hunger strike and said Tuesday that she is in "good condition." Roxana Saberi's Iranian-born father, who has been in the country since April 5 to seek her release, said she began a hunger strike a week ago, drinking only sweetened water to stay alive and that she is "very weak." After meeting with her on Tuesday, he said she remains determined to continue her protest until she is freed. "Roxana is continuing her hunger strike. She doesn't accept her food," Reza Saberi told The Associated Press. Earlier in the day, Iranian officials sought to portray talk of a hunger strike as an exploitative bid for publicity in the case, which is a source of tension between Washington and Iran at a time when the Obama administration has said it wants to engage its longtime adversary. "She is in good physical condition and is not on a hunger strike," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency. Hasan Haddad, a judge in the case who is also deputy prosecutor for security issues, said, "The hunger strike issue was raised by people who seek to exploit this issue for propaganda purposes," according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual US-Iranian citizen from Fargo, North Dakota, was convicted of spying for the US more than a week ago and sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors. Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, has appealed the ruling. The journalist's father met with her Tuesday at the Revolutionary Court in Teheran where she and her lawyer talked to the judge about her appeal. Khorramshahi said a ruling on the appeal could take up to three weeks. The United States has called the accusations against Saberi baseless and demanded her release. "We're very concerned about her mental state, about her physical being," US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said on Tuesday. "But we're going to continue to work this issue and we want to see her come back home." Iran has released few details about the charges against Saberi. Iran's intelligence minister said last week that the initial investigation of the journalist was done by an expert on security and counterespionage at the Intelligence Ministry before her case was referred to court. On Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Saberi's supporters would be surprised if the judiciary made the evidence against her public. 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. She received Iranian citizenship because her father was born in Iran. Saberi was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, an Iranian judge leveled the far more serious allegation of espionage. The case has also drawn the concern of press freedom groups. In Paris on Tuesday, more than a dozen people began a hunger strike to demonstrate their support. Jean-Francois Julliard, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, and a group of the organization's supporters sat on the sidewalk in front of the Paris offices of Iran Air, the Iranian national airline. The protest on the Champs Elysees was aimed at mobilizing public opinion in favor of Saberi and other journalists jailed in Iran, Julliard said. Iran's judiciary chief has ordered a full investigation into the case, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on Teheran's chief prosecutor to ensure Saberi be allowed a full defense during her appeal.