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Iran: American journalist guilty despite freedom

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's intelligence chief insisted Wednesday that American journalist Roxana Saberi is guilty of spying for the U.S. because the appeals court that reduced her prison sentence and freed her did not acquit her of the original charges.

The comments by Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi could be an attempt by hard-liners to show they did not totally cave to U.S. pressure over Saberi's case. The U.S. had called the spying charges baseless and demanded the journalist's release.

Saberi was originally convicted of spying in a brief, closed-door trial and sentenced to eight years in prison. The 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, who spent four months in prison, was freed Monday and reunited with her parents after an appeals court reduced her sentence to a two-year suspended sentence.

Ejehi said Saberi was guilty despite her release because the court had accepted the Intelligence Ministry's view that she had spied for the U.S.

"That the verdict against her is a two-year (suspended) jail term is proof of being guilty," Iranian state television quoted Ejehi as saying after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

One of Saberi's lawyers, Saleh Nikbakht, revealed Tuesday that she was convicted of spying for the U.S. in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the U.S. war in Iraq.

Saberi, according to Nikbakht, had copied the report "out of curiosity" while she worked as a freelance translator for a powerful body connected to Iran's ruling clerics.

Nikbakht said Wednesday that Saberi was waiting to get her Iranian and American passports back from the government in order to leave the country.

"Since her passports were seized from her at the time of detention, we need to get her passports back," he said. "It's a bureaucratic formality."

Saberi, who was crowned the 1997 Miss North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and had worked as a freelance journalist for several organizations, including NPR and the British Broadcasting Corp. She was arrested in late January.