Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi put in charge of Roxana Saberi’s defense has been denied permission to visit her client.
An aide to the defense lawyer said on Sunday that officials at Tehran’s Evin prison refused to allow Ebadi to meet with the 31-year-old freelance journalist accused of spying for the United States.
The Iranian-American journalist was sentenced to eight years in jail on April 18 after Iran’s judiciary found her guilty of espionage.
Saberi, who reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, has lived in Iran since 2003 and was arrested in February for working “illegally” as a journalist after her press card was revoked in 2006.
Ebadi’s spokeswoman Narges Mohammadi said that while the court had given her permission to meet with her defendant, the officials at that section of the jail where people accused of security-related crimes are held did not allow her entry.
“Ms. Ebadi received the court’s permission and went to Evin prison but branch 209 refused to allow her to meet Roxana,” Mohammadi told Reuters.
According to Ebadi’s aide, Roxana’s father Reza Saberi had gone to Ebadi’s office on Saturday to appoint a team of three lawyers led by the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner to help defend the controversial case.
The defense lawyer who has so far handled Saberi’s case, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, also confirmed that Ebadi has not yet been allowed to visit Roxana.
“As far as I know, Ebadi and her colleagues have already followed up the case but not yet succeeded to visit her in jail to get her signature for the mandate,” Khoramshahi told ILNA.
There has been no immediate comment from the Iranian side on the report.
The White House has called for the speedy release of Saberi with President Barack Obama saying that “she is an American citizen, and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her part said releasing Saberi would serve as a goodwill gesture.
Earlier last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Tehran’s prosecutor to ensure that justice is administered in the case of Saberi.