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Iran’s German hostages

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Wall Street Journal Europe – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: If having its journalists charged with espionage is what Berlin gets for its “critical dialogue” with Tehran, then maybe it’s time for a tougher line.

The Wall Street Journal Europe

If having its journalists charged with espionage is what Berlin gets for its “critical dialogue” with Tehran, then maybe it’s time for a tougher line.

REVIEW & OUTLOOK EUROPE

Five German law makers recently returned from Iran, where they had traveled to promote “cultural exchange.” They justified their meetings with Iranian officials in part as an attempt to win the release of two imprisoned German journalists. For their trouble, Tehran gave the parliamentarians a lesson in the futility of appeasement, charging the reporters on Tuesday with espionage.

The two Germans, who work for Bild am Sonntag but whose names have not been released, were arrested in mid-October while interviewing the family of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery. For dramatic effect, on Monday Iranian state-television broadcast blurred footage of the two, purportedly confessing to a “mistake” and blaming Mina Ahadi, an Iranian human-rights activist living in exile in Germany, of “tricking” them into traveling to Iran.

Back in Germany, Ms. Ahadi showed understanding for the journalists’ predicament. “They have been in prison for a month . . . no contact with their family, no phone contact, only once have German diplomats visited these journalists. They are under pressure.”

So is the German government. The espionage charges, which could carry the death sentence, come just as the West is trying to entice Iran to restart negotiations about its nuclear weapons program. Berlin is reluctant to impose harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel still refuses to shut down the Hamburg-based European Iranian Trade Bank, which the U.S. Treasury blacklisted in September. As long as Tehran hold those journalists, Berlin will have to think twice about following Washington’s lead.

Then again, the fate of the two journalists could also help steel Mrs. Merkel’s resolve. If having their journalists treated as hostages is what Germany gets for its “critical dialogue” and “cultural exchange” with Iran, then maybe it’s time for her government to take a tougher line.

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