'Jailed US reporter to go free'

TEHRAN: Jailed US-born reporter Roxana Saberi will be freed on Monday after an Iranian court reduced her prison term for spying to a two-year suspended sentence, her lawyer said.

Saberi, a US-Iranian national who was sentenced last month to an eight-year jail term by a revolutionary court on charges of spying for the United States, will be freed within two hours, he said.

The verdict was greeted with joy and relief by Saberi's father.

"The verdict of the previous court has been quashed," lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said. "Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence and she will be out of prison in one and half hours." The ruling comes just a day after a Tehran court heard a closed-door appeal by Saberi, who was initially detained in January reportedly for buying alcohol, an illegal act in the Islamic republic.

Since then she has been detained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The case triggered deep concern in Washington, which had dismissed the spying charges against the 32-year-old Saberi as baseless, and among human rights groups.

Saberi had been accused of "cooperating with a hostile state," a charge which carries a prison term of one to 10 years.

But Nikbakht said the appeal court had quashed the verdict issued by a Tehran revolutionary court on April 13 on the grounds that the United States and Iran could not be defined as hostile towards each other.

"She was sentenced to two years suspended jail for gathering secret documents," Nikbakht said, without specifying.

It is not immediately clear if Saberi will be able to leave Iran.

Her father, who had arrived in Iran from the United States in March to seek her release, voiced delight at the news.

"We are very happy," Reza Saberi told AFP. "We heard the news half an hour ago, we are going to Evin prison to take her home." The former US beauty queen launched a hunger strike on April 21 in protest at the sentence, taking in only water or sugared water, but she ended it after about two weeks after being briefly hospitalised in the prison clinic.

The sentence against Saberi was the harshest ever meted out to a dual national on security charges in Iran and came just weeks after new US President Barack Obama proposed better ties with Tehran.

Washington severed ties with Iran in 1980 in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the US-backed shah.

Obama himself said that he was "especially concerned" about Saberi as well as two other US women journalists being detained in North Korea.

Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has said Saberi had continued working "illegally" after her press card was revoked in 2006.

Saberi, who is also of Japanese origin, has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has lived in Iran for the past six years.