- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

EDITORIAL:

We were delighted to learn that an Iranian appeals court has suspended the eight-year sentence for espionage imposed last month on American journalist Roxana Saberi. The Washington Times’ editorial page was one of the first to address the issue of Miss Saberi’s wrongful imprisonment and was a leading voice calling for her freedom.

Even though the basis for the spying charge was found groundless, Miss Saberi still was hit with a two-year suspended sentence and was banned from reporting from Iran for five years on the lesser charge of “acting against Iran’s national security.”

We note with some skepticism the grounds the appeals court cited for overturning her original conviction. The charge of working for an enemy government was dropped on the basis that there is no reason to believe there is “animosity” between Iran and the United States.” We suspect that U.S. diplomats will be encouraged by this peace declaration because it was engineered at the highest levels. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the prosecutor in Tehran the day after Miss Saberi’s sentencing asking that she be given a fair chance to defend herself on appeal. The next day, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered a “quick and fair” appeal. The appeals court delivered its verdict within three weeks.

Before the State Department gets too excited about a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough, we hasten to note that this same defense was used successfully in 2003 by Iranian reformist pollster Abbas Abdi, who in his younger days was one of the “students” who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. His crime was publishing a poll showing that 74 percent of Iranians favored dialogue with America. Iran’s Supreme Court overturned the espionage charge after his lawyers cited a ruling by the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on National Security that no state of war existed between the U.S. and Iran, a finding that was approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Yet heedless of the pacific state of affairs between Washington and Tehran, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force has for many years provided sophisticated weapons and ammunition used by Iraqi insurgent groups to attack coalition and Iraqi forces. The State Department has consistently identified Iran as the top state supporter of terrorism in the world. We hope that the discovery of peace between our two countries will encourage Tehran to clarify the fate of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared inside Iran in March 2007. The Iranian government denies knowledge of his whereabouts.

Miss Saberi was one of many prisoners of conscience languishing in Iran’s prisons or awaiting arrest by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Among them are nongovernmental organization worker Silva Harotonian, Maryam Malek of the Campaign for Equality and Kurdish grade-school teacher Farzad Kamangar, who is facing a death sentence and may be executed at any moment. We are happy that Roxana Saberi has been released, but our praise is restrained given the continuing suppressions of free thought and expression in the Islamic Republic.