Iran to let families visit jailed journalists

2010-12-28 14:44

Iran said yesterday that it would allow relatives to visit two German journalists detained while covering the case of an Iranian woman whose sentence to death by stoning for adultery has caused an international outcry.

It was not immediately clear when the visit would be allowed.

Earlier yesterday the German foreign ministry summoned its Iranian ambassador to complain that the two were not able to meet with relatives over Christmas despite earlier promises.

Iranian and German authorities have not identified the two journalists but by late yesterday an official Iranian TV outlet, Press TV, identified the two Germans for the first time, showing a passport belonging to Marcus Alfred Rudolf Hellwig.

The English-language Press TV identified the second journalist as Jens Andreas Koch.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s sentence, which Iran has put on hold, has brought harsh condemnation from the US, the European Union and rights groups who are pressuring Tehran to stay the execution.

It has further strained Iran’s relations with world powers, already tense over the country’s disputed nuclear programme.

The two Germans – a reporter and a photographer for the mass circulation tabloid, Bild am Sonntag – entered the country on tourist visas and were arrested in early October in the northwestern city of Tabriz while interviewing the son and lawyer of Ashtiani.

Ashtiani’s son and lawyer were arrested about the same time as the two journalists.

Iranian officials approved the visit by the families in Tabriz, 630km from the capital, Tehran, according to a statement on the website of the State TV.

In Berlin a German foreign ministry spokesperson said two relatives were now on their way to Tabriz after German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle spoke several times with his Iranian counterpart yesterday.

“Therefore there was a meeting between the relatives and the Iranian foreign minister during which the latter promised a swift encounter with the detainees in Tabriz,” said the spokesperson, who declined to be named in keeping with government policy.

Bild reported on Sunday that the reporter’s sister and the photographer’s mother would be able to meet with them at an undisclosed location in Tehran.

The newspaper said the meeting had first been planned for Saturday and then rescheduled for Sunday but both were cancelled.

Iranian officials claim the two Germans have admitted to violating Iranian laws, which forbid those entering the country on tourist visas to work as journalists.

Iran’s judiciary rejected claims by Iranian officials who accused the two Germans of espionage and no spy charges have been filed against them.

The two were shown on Iranian State TV in mid-last month and earlier this month. Iran signalled it might release them for the New Year’s holiday.

Ashtiani’s death by stoning sentence has been put on hold and is now being reviewed by Iran’s Supreme Court.

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