Germans detained in Iran meet families

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Two German journalists detained in Iran since October have met their families, officials said, as Germany's foreign minister on Tuesday thanked his Iranian counterpart for his help.

The relatives were allowed to meet the two men in the northwest city of Tabriz, a city about 530 kilometres (330 miles) northwest of the capital Tehran, where they are in jail, Germany's foreign ministry confirmed Tuesday.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle thanked his Iranian counterpart for his "support", in a statement published on the foreign ministry website.

But Germany wanted to see them freed and allowed to return home, he repeated.

Moussa Kahlilolahi, the general prosecutor in the city of Tabriz had announced the meeting on Monday in a statement covered by the official IRNA news agency.

"Two members of the families of two German nationals arrived Monday night in Tabriz and they will be able to meet with them," said Kahlilolahi.

IRNA reported that the foreign ministry "has made it possible for two German nationals arrested in Iran to meet their families" after Westerwelle had appealed to his Iranian counterpart.

German weekly Bild am Sonntag has said its two employees, who have not been named, travelled to Iran to investigate the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

They were arrested on October 10 in Tabriz together with the son and family lawyer of Ashtiani, whose case has sparked international outrage and diplomatic intervention by several Western governments as well as the Vatican.

Iran says the two entered the country on tourist visas and failed to obtain the necessary accreditation for journalists from the authorities before "posing as reporters" when they contacted her family.

The minister's request for a meeting with their families had been granted "on humanitarian grounds" and took into account the Christian holiday season, IRNA reported.

"The German foreign ministry and the German embassy had been informed," the official news agency added.

Earlier Monday, Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador over Tehran's refusal to allow the jailed journalists see their families over the Christmas holidays, a German foreign ministry spokesman said.

The reporters' families had travelled to Iran to visit them in jail but that the trip had been in vain despite "several firm promises" from the Iranian side, said spokesman Stefan Bredohl.

"As such a visit has yet to take place, the Iranian ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry and State Secretary (Wolf-Ruthart) Born very clearly expressed the German government's displeasure," Bredohl added.

Iran's prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie said on December 5 that the two Germans were placed under investigation for illegal entry to the country, but denied they faced espionage charges.

"These two did some violations after entering the country, which is under investigation. Nobody labelled them as spies," he was quoted as saying at the time.

All journalists working for foreign media in Iran must obtain accreditation from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance in order to work in the Islamic republic.

© 2010 AFP

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