'Fake foreign reporters' tied to anti-revolution group: Iran
Iran said on Tuesday that two foreigners arrested for posing as journalists and interviewing the son of a woman facing execution by stoning are suspected of having links with anti-revolution groups.
"Two people, who had tourist visas, went to the family of Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi posing as journalists to file a report," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly media conference.
"They were arrested because they had a link to a foreign anti-revolution network and their case is under review," he said, adding the two were arrested in the northwestern city of Tabriz.
Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, is facing death by stoning over charges of adultery in a case that has triggered an international outcry, including from the Vatican.
Iran's public prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie had on Monday announced the arrests of the two foreigners, saying they were "faking journalistic status."
He said the two had entered the Islamic republic as tourists and were "now in custody" after they had asked the son of Mohammadi-Ashtiani some questions.
He strongly hinted the detainees may be Germans by linking them to an Iranian human rights activist, Mina Ahadi, who had raised the alarm about the arrests from her base in Germany.
On Tuesday, Mehmanparast too indicated that the two foreigners could be Germans.
"Some sources have said that they are German. The anti-revolution group which arranged for these two people to go to Ms Sakineh Mohammadi's family is in Germany," he said.
He was referring to Ahadi, founder of the International Committees against Execution and Stoning which is based in Germany.
Without confirming their nationality, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin was "greatly interested in the release of the two foreigners."
"The foreign ministry is doing everything it can to get more information," she told reporters in the Romanian capital Bucharest when asked for reaction to the reports that two German journalists had been arrested by Tehran.
On Monday, Ahadi said she was on a telephone hook-up Sunday with Ashtiani's son Sajjad and her lawyer Javid Houtan Kian as they were being interviewed by journalists.
"Suddenly one of the journalists shouted, 'What's happening', and then said, 'Mrs Ahadi, I must hang up,' the activist told AFP in Germany.
"Since then, I've had no news," Ahadi said. "Normally we talk to each other daily. I've spoken to friends of Sajjad in Tabriz, and they've had no news either.
"I'm 100 percent sure they've been arrested, but we don't know where they are."
Ahadi said the two journalists were working for a German newspaper, but refused to name them for "security reasons."
The Association of German Journalists has called on its website for the immediate release of the two, without revealing their identity or employer.
Association president Michael Konken said the accusation the pair were arrested because they were not accredited was "a pretext to block critical coverage of human rights violations in Iran."
Ashtiani was sentenced to death by two different courts in the northwestern city of Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.
The first death sentence, by hanging, for her involvement in the murder of her husband, was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.
But the second, by stoning, was on a charge of adultery levelled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband's murder, was upheld by another appeals court the same year.
Since July, Iranian officials have said repeatedly the stoning sentence has been stayed, in the face of an international outcry.
Mehmanparast said last month that "the judicial process has not yet finished and the final judgement will be announced after the end of the process."
© 2010 AFP