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IRAN: Western journalists arrested over stoning case

October 11, 2010 | 11:23 am

These are hard times for foreign journalists in Iran.

Two Western journalists have been arrested in Iran after allegedly interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman who was sentenced to be stoned for adultery.

A third longtime correspondent has also been given the boot, ordered to leave Iran within two weeks in part because of her paper's support for Ashtiani.

The head of the country’s judiciary announced the arrests Monday but said the first two were not properly accredited as journalists, an ominous suggestion that they could be charged with espionage.

Iran-Angeles_Espinosa"In the past few days, we were informed that someone from one of the foreign countries contacted the family of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani and told them that two people would be coming to Iran to interview them," Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, Iran's chief prosecutor, told reporters, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

"Following this telephone call, two foreign citizens who entered Iran as tourists, contacted the son of Mrs. Mohammadi and interviewed him," he said.

"After a while, one of the people present at the meeting became suspicious of the manner of questioning of these two individuals and informed the official sources," he said. "After conducting relevant investigations, it was established that these two people were not reporters and even if they were, they did not have the relevant documents." 

The London-based Guardian interviewed Germany-based Iranian activist Mina Ahadi, who said she had set up the interview for two journalists affiliated with the mass-market German tabloid Bild am Sonntag who had recently arrived in Iran. 

"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," Ahadi told the Guardian. "It was around 5 p.m. 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.

She said she worried for the two because of Germany's outspokenness on the issue of stoning. "Iran might keep them for a long time for a retaliation like they did with the French academic Clotilde Reiss," she said.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday that the Tehran-based resident correspondent for Spain's largest daily, El Pais, had been given two weeks to leave Iran.

Angeles Espinosa, a long-time member of the Tehran press corpstold her paper (Spanish link) that she got in trouble with Iranian authorities in July after being detained for interviewing the son of a late dissident cleric in the holy city of Qom, which she said she had permission to visit.  

When she returned to Iran several weeks ago, authorities took away her passport, canceled her residency visa and gave her until Oct. 24 to leave.

"No one has explained anything to me," she said.

She said authorities were unhappy with her paper's vocal support for Ashtiani.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Angeles Espinosa. Credit: El Pais