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IRAN: Germany steps up efforts to get detained journalists released

October 16, 2010 |  7:37 am

_46454538_-55Germany is becoming increasingly concerned over two of its journalists who were detained in the Islamic Republic last week after allegedly interviewing the son and lawyer of a woman sentenced to stoning, but without having proper credentials.

German officials have begun stepping up efforts to get the two reporters released in a case that could lead to a diplomatic row between the two countries.

During a one-hour long meeting Friday in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pleaded to his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki for Iran to show "mercy" to the detainees and for the foreign minister to personally intervene in the case, both Iranian state media and German media reported.

The Iranian foreign minister offered a simple response to the plea.

"The issue of the two German nationals would be pursued in framework of law and judicial system," he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA).

Westerwelle nevertheless appeared optimistic about the meeting, saying he got the "impression that foreign minister Mottaki will also take up this matter personally," according to Germany's Der Spiegel. 

The German ambassador in Tehran also recently met with Mottaki and asked him to pardon the German journalists, reported Iran's Fars News Agency.  

The detained journalists, reportedly a 35-year-old newspaper editor and his photographer, were allegedly arrested Oct. 10 in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz in the office of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's lawyer, Houtan Kian, when Iranian officials raided the premises. Authorities in Iran have accused the reporters of entering the country fraudulently as tourists without being properly accredited as journalists.

Iranian judicial officials say the journalists have admitted to breaking the law.

"The two Germans have acknowledged their offense, saying that claiming to be journalists was not right," Iran's chief prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei was quoted by Iran's English language Press TV as telling reporters.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0133f22c5bd3970b-piThe arrests come a few months after a Swedish journalist of Iranian origin conducted a lengthy interview (in Swedish) with Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Ghaderzade, during a secret meeting in a park in Tabriz for the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

In the interview, Ghaderzade told the reporter he is convinced that his mother was innocent and didn't have an illicit romantic relationship with the man accused of murdering his father. After Ashtiani's case sparked an international outcry and attracted much media attention, Iranian judicial officials said Ashtiani was complicit in the murder of the husband, which Ghaderzade sternly refuted.

He describes his mother a simple woman who dropped out of school and enjoyed staying at home, taking care of the house.

"Mom liked to be a housewife in our town Oskoo. She loved to make spaghetti with cheese and onion. Our family liked gardens and often gathered in the park to eat together," he said.

During her time in prison, however, Ashtiani appears to have become a shadow of her former self.

"My mom is angrier, more depressed. She is suffering from psychological problems, she has lost hair, and gotten more wrinkles," he said.

Towards the end of the interview, the reporter asked Ghaderzade whether he himself felt threatened.

"What I am scared of are interviews and articles in the international press and that the government wants to ask questions," he answered.

His concerns were apparently well-founded. Recent remarks from Mohseni-Ejei regarding the arrests of the German reporters suggest the Iranian authorities have been keeping a watchful eye on Ghaderzade and other members of Ashtiani's family.

"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," he was quoted as telling reporters by the official Islamic Republic News Agency following the detainment of the German reporters.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos: Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has asked Iran to show "mercy" to two German journalists who were detained in Iran last week. Credit: Associated Press. Lower image: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Credit: Facebook