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Iran denies jailed US journalist on hunger strike

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian judiciary official denied that the American journalist jailed in Iran for allegedly spying for the U.S. is on a hunger strike and said Tuesday that she is in “good condition.”

The father of 32-year-old Roxana Saberi said Monday that she is “very weak” after being on a hunger strike for one week, drinking only sweetened water to stay alive.

Her Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

“She is in good physical condition and is not on a hunger strike,” judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Saberi, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen from Fargo, North Dakota, was convicted of spying for the U.S. more than a week ago and sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors. Her lawyer has appealed the ruling.

The United States has called the accusations against Saberi baseless and demanded her release. The case has been a source of tension between Washington and Iran at a time when the Obama administration has said it wants to engage its longtime adversary.

Iran has released few details about the charges against Saberi. On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Saberi’s supporters would be surprised if the judiciary made the evidence against her public.

Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She received Iranian citizenship because her father was born in Iran.

Saberi was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, an Iranian judge leveled the far more serious allegation of espionage.

On Monday, the reporter’s father said he had tried to persuade her to end a hunger strike but she refused. “She vowed to remain on hunger strike until she is freed,” he said.

The case has also drawn the concern of press freedom groups.

In Paris on Tuesday, more than a dozen people began a hunger strike to demonstrate their support. Jean-Francois Julliard, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, and a group of the organization’s supporters sat on the sidewalk in front of the Paris offices of Iran Air, the Iranian national airline.

The protest on the Champs Elysees was aimed at mobilizing public opinion in favor of Saberi and other journalists jailed in Iran, Julliard said.

Iran’s judiciary chief has ordered a full investigation into the case, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on Tehran’s chief prosecutor to ensure Saberi be allowed a full defense during her appeal.

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