Germany seeks release of 'journalists' held in Iran

Publication Date: 
October 12, 2010
BBC News, The Guardian, RFE/RL
Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her government wants to secure the release of two foreigners arrested in Iran - believed to be German reporters.Iran said on Monday it had held two "foreign nationals" who it said were activists posing as reporters.

The pair had been interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, who has been sentenced to death by stoning.

It is thought Ms Ashtiani's son Sajjad and her lawyer may also have been arrested.

Mrs Merkel said that foreign ministry officials were working to release the two "foreigners", but that they had so far received little information.

She did not confirm their names, or even that they were German, though that is the suggestion from Iranian sources and the Association of German Journalists.

Iran on Tuesday said the two had entered Iran on tourist visas and therefore did not have the right accreditation to carry out interviews.

"They were arrested because they had a link to a foreign anti-revolution network and their case is under review," said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, adding the two were arrested in the north-western city of Tabriz.

The case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has caused international outrage.

She has been convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning.

Iran has temporarily suspended Ms Ashtiani's stoning verdict under international pressure.

But last month, reports surfaced that Iranian courts were instead considering hanging her for the murder of her husband.

Her lawyers insist she is innocent.



German journalists held in Iran after 'stoning' interview

Two German journalists have been arrested in after conducting an interview with the son of , the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, Sajad, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, are also believed to have been detained.

The journalists, a reporter and a photographer said to be from 's Bild am Sonntag newspaper, were interviewing Sajad Ghaderzadeh in the north-west city of Tabriz in East Azerbaijan province when officials raided the office of the lawyer. Their names have not been released and it is not clear where they are being kept at the moment.

"I was on the phone with one of the journalists in the middle of their interview when apparently a group of officials raided the office and our communication was instantly interrupted," said Mina Ahadi of Iran's Committee Against Stoning (Icas).

Iran's prosecutor general confirmed the arrests, the students' news agency ISNA reported. "Two foreigners posing as journalists have been arrested in Iran," said Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

A spokesman for Bild am Sonntag said it had no knowledge of the arrests. "We do not know anything of any arrests of employees of our company".

A German foreign ministry spokesman said: "We are aware of these reports and the facts behind them. We at the foreign ministry in Berlin as well as our embassy in Iran are trying on different levels and very intensively to clarify the circumstances of these reports."

According to Ahadi, who was helping the journalists with translation by phone from Germany, the two arrived in Tehran five days ago for an interview with Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, whose campaign to save her mother from stoning has caught the world's attention since July this year. Sajad has repeatedly been warned by Iran's intelligence service not to talk to media.

"It was around 5pm in Germany when it happened, I could hear them shouting, 'What is happening?' at the other end of the phone in Iran and they told me they should hang up and I have not heard from them since," she said.

"I'm very worried about them because Germany has been very outspoken about the human rights abuses in Iran and Iran might keep them for a long time for a retaliation, like they did with the French academic Clotilde Reiss," she said.

Today, Mohammadi Ashtiani's family have confirmed that Sajad has not returned since last night and the lawyer is missing. It is not clear whether the journalists had permission to work in Iran.

Last December two German diplomats were arrested in Tehran for what Iran described as their involvement in anti-governmental protest. Germany is among those countries which condemned the stoning punishment in Iran and asked for the release of Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Since the disputed presidential election in June 2009, Iran has cracked down on foreign and local media. More than 100 journalists and bloggers have been arrested and at least 65 still remain in jail. Eight have been shut down.

Recently, Iranian-Canadian journalist Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, another journalist and a blogger, was also sentenced to 15 years last week.

Two American nationals, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who were arrested more than 14 months ago, are still being kept in Tehran's Evin prison. Iran says they crossed the Iran-Iraq border illegally and have charged them with espionage.


Iran Prosecutor Says Germans 'Admitted Breaking Law'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has appealed for the Germans' release.

October 16, 2010

Iranian authorities say that two German nationals arrested trying to interview the son of a woman condemned to death by stoning have admitted to breaking the law.

of both individuals, and German officials told reporters that diplomats have been unable to speak to the detainees and that they have no new information regarding their case.

"The two Germans have acknowledged their offense," state-run Press TV quoted Prosecutor-General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying of the two, who were detained in Tabriz, in northwest Iran, on October 10. "They were pursuing a certain agenda," he added.

The two reportedly were in Iran on tourist visas and, Iranian prosecutors claim, had no right to be doing reportorial work. Accredited journalists for foreign media must get official permission to travel outside the capital, Tehran.

German reports have suggested the two were working for "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper, whose publisher has declined to comment.

Iran's Foreign Ministry has suggested the two have links to "antirevolutionary networks abroad."

They were reportedly arrested after meeting with the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence for adultery has been delayed but .

The case raised huge international outcry, and a lawyer who was defending Ashtiani has fled Iran with his family in the face of official harassment.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has said Ashtiani was never sentenced to stoning, but multiple reports and contradict that assertion.

Ashtiani's grown son and daughter have campaigned feverishly against the death sentence, handed down after Ashtiani's initial sentencing in the case, which included charges of involvement in the murder of her husband.