Iran frees two German journalists

IRAN freed two detained German journalists, state media reported, and Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived later Saturday in Tehran to take them home.

The German journalists, who work for German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, were arrested on October 10 in the northwestern city of Tabriz for interviewing the son and lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

“The two accused detained in Tabriz have been released and are departing for their home country,” Malek Ajdar Sharifi, judiciary head of Iran’s East Azerbaijan, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Westerwelle arrived in Iran late Saturday to bring back Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch.

He was expected to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as withhis Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi and hold a joint news conference later in the evening, Iranian media reports said.

At the end of January, Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie as saying the journalists had entered the Islamic republic as tourists and been arrested because in fact they were reporters.

Iran had also accused the Germans of having links with an “anti-revolutionary group” and said they had not obtained a special government permit to work in the country, usually required of foreigners.

The reporters initially were sentenced to 20 months in prison for acting against “national security” but their sentence was commuted to fines of about $50,000 each out of “Islamic compassion,” according to a judiciary statement.

In a case which has sparked international condemnation, Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death by two different courts in Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.

Her sentence to hang for her involvement in her husband’s murder was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.

But a second sentence of death by stoning on charges of adultery leveled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband’s murder, was upheld by another appeals court the same year.

She told reporters in January that she planned to sue several people – including the German reporters – for “disgracing” her.

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