[JURIST] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Sunday issued an order to prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to recognize the legal rights of detained journalists Roxana Saberi [advocacy website] and Hossein Derakhshan [personal weblog], according to a report [text] by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). According to the IRNA, the letter called for Mortazavi to make sure the cases against the two were governed by the interests of justice, and that their right to legally defend themselves was recognized, but no other details were released. Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist who was sentenced [JURIST report] to eight years in prison for espionage by an Iranian court on Saturday, and Derakhshan is an Iranian-Canadian blogger who has been detained [Times report] in the country since November, also on espionage charges. Critics of Saberi's arrest and conviction maintain that her trial was a farce [AP report] and have said that the statement was motivated by politics rather than justice.
Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] reported that Iran ranked sixth in the world [report] for total number of imprisoned journalists. In the past two years, Iran has arrested several journalists and scholars on espionage charges. In 2007, Iran accused four Iranian-Americans of belonging to a US-organized spy network. Iran formally charged [JURIST report] Iranian-American scholar Dr. Haleh Esfandiari [WWC profile] for allegedly plotting "against the sovereignty of the country." Iran also charged Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release] and Radio Farda [media website] correspondent Parnaz Azima with allegedly engaging in an espionage conspiracy [JURIST report]. An Iranian judge said that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh admitted to carrying out some "activities" [JURIST report], although it was unclear if their statements were tantamount to an admission of spying.