Journalist group says 2 Germans in Iran not spies

Journalist group says 2 Germans in Iran not spies
# 16 November 2010 20:48 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. A journalists’ association Tuesday strongly rejected spying accusations against two Germans detained in Iran in connection with a highly publicized stoning case and called for their immediate release, APA reports quoting “The Washington Post”.
The German Journalists’ Association criticized Iran for showing the two in a broadcast on state television Monday in which they admitted mistakes.
The two were arrested last month while interviewing the son and lawyer of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery.
"Coverage of human rights violations is not spying, but important information," the journalist association’s deputy chairman, Ulrike Kaiser, said in a statement Tuesday. She urged Germany’s Foreign Ministry to increase its efforts to get the two men released.
Iranian officials have questioned whether the Germans are journalists and accused them of being spies, saying they posed as reporters without providing any evidence to support the claim.
The German Bild am Sonntag newspaper said Tuesday for the first time that the two men were journalists on assignment for the paper in Iran.
"For more than a month, we have been fearing for two Bild am Sonntag reporters who were arrested in Iran," editor-in-chief Walter Mayer said in a statement. He declined further comment and did not identify the reporters.
The Iranian government has said the pair admitted entering Iran on tourist visas instead of on the journalist visas foreign reporters must have to work legally in the country.
The prosecutor in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, where Ashtiani was arrested, told the Iranian government’s main English-language broadcast arm, Press TV, that Germans’ behavior showed they entered the country as spies.
Prosecutor Hojjatoleslam Malek Ajdar Sharifi was quoted Monday as saying the Germans "are certainly spies and their case will be addressed" in court.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said the two were receiving assistance from the embassy. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with German government policy.
In the state TV broadcast, the two Germans appeared to confess that they had been hired by Germany-based human rights activist Mina Ahadi to speak with Ashtiani’s son and lawyer.
"Mrs. Ahadi sent me to Iran. I will file a complaint against her when I return to Germany," said one of the journalists, who was not identified by name. The second German said they had been "deceived" by Ahadi.
But Ahadi told The Associated Press that the pair must have been forced by the authorities to make false accusations against her. She said the journalists had asked her to get them in contact with Ashtiani’s family.
"Maybe they were promised that they would be released if they put the blame on me," Ahadi said.
The stoning sentence against Ashtiani has been put on hold and is now being reviewed by Iran’s supreme court, but she still faces the possibility of being sentenced to death by other means.
The outcry over the case is one of the latest thorns in Iran’s relationship with the international community, as the U.S., the EU and international human rights groups have urged Iran to stay the execution.
Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and she was sentenced at the time to 99 lashes.
Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession she says was made under duress. Ashtiani has also been convicted of involvement in the death of her husband. She could still face execution by hanging in the two cases.
A woman identified as Ashtiani said in Monday’s state TV report: "I am a sinner."