A court in Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American journalist to eight years in prison for spying, her lawyer said Saturday.

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Roxana Saberi, seen in this undated file photo, is a U.S.-born freelance reporter who has worked for the BBC and NPR. ((National Press Photographers Association/AP))

Roxana Saberi, 31, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in late January and taken to Tehran's Evin prison.

She was initially accused of working without press credentials, but earlier this month a judge in Tehran levelled a far more serious allegation, charging her with spying for the U.S.

Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said he plans to appeal the ruling, handed down five days after Saberi was put on trial.

Monday’s hearing took place behind the closed doors of a Revolutionary Court, which handles state security matters.

News of the sentencing could become a source of tension between Iran and the United States at a time when Washington hopes to engage Iran with diplomacy and ease 30 years of enmity.

The U.S. State Department earlier in the week called the allegations "baseless" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Tehran to release Saberi.

On Saturday, Clinton said she's "deeply disappointed' by the sentencing.

Saberi is of Iranian and Japanese descent and moved to Iran six years ago from Fargo, N.D., where she grew up, according to a website set up to campaign for her release.

She has worked for both the U.S. public network National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation, but Iranian officials said her press card became invalid three years ago.

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Iran for arresting journalists and suppressing freedom of speech.

The government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, citing alleged attempts to overthrow its Islamic government through what it calls a "soft revolution." But they were never put on trial and were eventually released from prison.

 

With files from The Associated Press