TEHRAN, Iran — An American journalist imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran for four months was freed Monday and reunited with her smiling, tearful parents _ a move that clears a major obstacle to President Barack Obama’s attempts at dialogue with the top U.S. adversary in the Middle East. The United States had said the charges against Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, were baseless and repeatedly demanded her release.
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could also win some domestic political points a month before he faces a re-election challenge from reformers who seek to ease Iran’s bitter rivalry with the United States.
Saberi’s Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, wiped away tears, then flashed a broad smile as he and his wife, Akiko, arrived at Tehran’s Evin prison _ notorious for holding political prisoners _ to meet their daughter. Akiko Saberi, who is of Japanese origin, wore a flowered headscarf.
“I’m very happy that she is free. Roxana is in good condition,” Reza Saberi said later at his family home in Tehran. “We had expected her release but not so soon. She will be preparing to leave (Iran) tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”
The younger Saberi, who was taken out of Evin through a back door away from journalists, was not seen after her release. She was staying with her parents at a friend’s home, apparently to avoid publicity before leaving Iran.
Her release came when an appeals court reduced her eight-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the U.S. to a two-year suspended sentence, said Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi. He said Saberi was free to leave Iran.
The court ordered the reduction as a gesture of “Islamic mercy” because she had cooperated with authorities and had expressed regret, he said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration continues to stress that Saberi was wrongly accused, “but we welcome this humanitarian gesture.”