German paper calls on Iran to release its journalists

21st November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper called on Iran on Sunday to release two of its journalists arrested six weeks ago and accused of spying.

"The Iranian authorities know very well that these are journalists and nothing else," the mass-circulation weekly said in a front-page appeal, calling the accusations of spying "absurd".

The reporter and photographer, who were not named, travelled to Iran to investigate the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning, said Bild am Sonntag.

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

Since then they have had no access to a lawyer and have only briefly been able to speak to German consular officials, it added.

In what Bild am Sonntag called "painful" images, Iranian state-run television last week showed blurred footage of the two as yet unidentified German men "confessing" that they had been "tricked" into travelling to Iran.

"How much justice can we expect from a judiciary that threatens a woman with death because she perhaps kissed a man," the paper said.

"Nevertheless we have to hope that German diplomats and politicians manage to press Iran to release our colleagues."

Mohammadi-Ashtiani's case has triggered an international outcry.

She was initially handed death sentences by two different courts in separate trials in 2006. A sentence to hang for her involvement in the murder of her husband was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.

But a second sentence, to die by stoning on a charge of adultery levelled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband's murder, was upheld by a different appeals court the same year.

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 last month.

© 2010 AFP

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