German journalists held in Iran not accused of spying: aide

5th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Two German journalists arrested in Iran in October are not facing charges of spying, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in a German newspaper Sunday as saying.

"We never said (that they would be charged with spying). There is no evidence to suggest that they worked as spies," Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) in an interview.

But he added: "They broke the law. They entered the country on tourist visas and worked as journalists."

According to their employer, the mass-circulation weekly Bild am Sonntag, the two men, who have not been named, travelled to Iran to investigate the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning.

They were arrested on October 10 in Tabriz in northwest Iran together with Mohammadi-Ashtiani's son and the family's lawyer, according to Bild am Sonntag, part of German publishing group Axel Springer Verlag.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi, justice department chief of East Azerbaijan province where the arrests were made, was quoted by Fars news agency on November 16 as saying that the two men were being accused of espionage.

Contacted by AFP, a German foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on the aide's statements, saying only that the ministry was working "with high pressure" towards securing the men's release.

Mashaie told the FAS that the German embassy has had consular access to the two men three times, that they received presents from their families and that one of them had spoken by phone with relatives.

"There has been a request for a meeting with their families in the German embassy at Christmas. The Iranian government is working on this and we are very optimistic," he said, calling German-Iranian relations "friendly".

Bild am Sonntag on Sunday carried an appeal by four former German presidents for Iran to release the reporters.

Iran has also accused three American hikers detained on July 31, 2009 of espionage and illegal entry from across the border with Iraq.

Two of the three -- Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer -- have been held in a Tehran jail for more than a year. Their female companion, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail.

© 2010 AFP

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