The parents of an American journalist imprisoned in Iran for allegedly spying for the U.S. visited their daughter Monday for the first time since she was sentenced to eight years in prison and said she was in good condition.
The country's judiciary chief ordered a full investigation into 31-year-old Roxana Saberi's case, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the chief Tehran prosecutor to ensure she is allowed to offer a full defense in the appeal.
"She seems to be OK," Saberi's Iranian-born father, Reza, told The Associated Press after he and his wife visited their daughter in Evin prison north of Tehran. Roxana Saberi, who was born in the U.S. and grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, was convicted last week after a one-day trial behind closed doors.
The developments appear to be the latest signs that some senior Iranian officials want to ensure tensions over the case do not derail moves toward a dialogue with the Obama administration to break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock between the two countries.
However, Iran's Foreign Ministry took a swipe Monday at President Barack Obama, saying "those who studied law" should not comment on the case without seeing the context. It was a clear reference to Obama, who has a law degree from Harvard University and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago before becoming president.
Some analysts have said the mixed messages emerging from Iran may be an indication of political divisions in the leadership, with hard-liners in the judiciary trying to hamper government moves toward closer relations with the U.S. by pressing the Saberi case.
Obama said Sunday he was "gravely concerned" about Saberi's safety and well-being and was confident she was not involved in espionage.
The visit by Saberi's parents, who live in Fargo but traveled to Iran to seek her release, may help ease some of those concerns.
"As far as she is healthy and she is taking good care of herself, I told her I will be OK," Akiko Saberi, the journalist's mother, told the AP.
She denied her daughter was a spy, saying "once you know her she is the last person to do that."
Saberi's father said his daughter was looking forward to the appeals process because she believed the verdict was too harsh for her.
He said he hoped officials will heed Ahmadinejad's letter to the prosecutor on Saberi's defense at appeal.
"Also, they should be compassionate in their judgment and not very harsh," he said.
Saberi, who was 1997 Miss North Dakota, had been living in Iran for six years and worked as a freelance reporter for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. Because Saberi's father was born in Iranian, she received Iranian citizenship.
Iran has released few details about the charges Saberi, who was arrested in January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, an Iranian judge leveled a more serious allegation that she was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.
She told her father in a phone conversation that she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine. Her father said she had been working on a book about Iranian culture and hoped to finish it and return to the U.S. this year.
The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after its 1979 Islamic revolution and takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Iran has been mostly lukewarm to the Obama administration's overtures, but last week, Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready for a new start.
However, some hard-liners in Iran are opposed to improved U.S.-Iran relations.
The hard-line Iranian newspaper Jomhuri criticized Ahmadinejad's letter to the Tehran prosecutor in an editorial Monday, saying government intervention in the judiciary was banned by the constitution. It also said the letter implied the judiciary had not upheld Saberi's rights.
Saberi's conviction also comes about two months ahead of key presidential elections in June that are pitting hard-liners against reformists, who support better relations with Washington. Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election, but the hard-liner's popularity has waned and he's been trying to draw support away from reformists.