New York Times: Germany and Iran faced off Tuesday over the case of two Germans arrested in Iran over the weekend while interviewing the son of a woman whose sentence to death by stoning raised an international uproar.
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
BERLIN — Germany and Iran faced off Tuesday over the case of two Germans arrested in Iran over the weekend while interviewing the son of a woman whose sentence to death by stoning raised an international uproar.
There were indications that the arrests were taking on political overtones similar to those surrounding the arrest of three Americans by Iranian border guards more than a year ago.
Both Iran and Germany confirmed Tuesday for the first time that the two were indeed Germans. Leaders here said the two were journalists, giving no further identification. Chancellor Angela Merkel called for their release, and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, “We work with full strength at all diplomatic levels” for their freedom.
In Tehran, however, government officials accused the two of being connected to a revolutionary group, and said they had traveled to Iran on tourist visas, not the requisite journalist visas.
“They were arrested because they had a link to a foreign antirevolution network and their case is under review,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told reporters.
The arrests come as Germany is under increasing pressure from Washington to cut — or at least reduce — economic ties with Iran. Several of Germany’s largest companies have announced in recent months that they will wind down their business dealings with Iran. Germany has long been an important trading and banking center for Iran, even while Iran has been under sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for failing to abide by rulings concerning its nuclear program. Iran says its program is peaceful, while Western capitals have said it is a weapons program.
Mr. Mehmanparast said the Germans were arrested in the northwestern city of Tabriz while interviewing Sajad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose death sentence for adultery drew international criticism over the summer. The authorities lifted the stoning sentence, but not the death penalty, saying that she had also been convicted of helping murder her husband. Ms. Ashtiani is being held in Tabriz prison.
Mr. Westerwelle said he ordered a diplomatic mission to Tabriz.
Iran requires that all journalists enter the country on a special visa, then receive accreditation in order to be allowed to work in the country. Journalists are also required to pay for translators who work for agencies affiliated with the government; they then are required to inform on the reporters’ behavior as well as to identify everyone they interviewed.
But even with that system in place, Iran has denied access to Tehran for most Western reporters since the political turmoil that followed the contested presidential election last year.
The American case started in the summer of 2009, when three hikers in the mountainous Kurdish area of northern Iraq were arrested by Iranian border guards and accused of spying. American officials protested their detention and dismissed Iran’s claims as preposterous, but after a year, only one of the hikers has been released.