Iran allows access to journalists after German protest

The two journalists were arrested in mid-October for interviewing family members of woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.

December 31, 2010 04:46
2 minute read.
Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani

Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani Iran stoning 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

BERLIN – German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned Ambassador Ali Reza Sheikh Attar earlier this week because of Iran’s refusal to grant access to the family members of two German journalists it has held captive since October. Teheran then immediately backed down and enabled the access.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that Westerwelle expressed his “displeasure” with the detention of the two journalists, who work for the mass circulation Bild am Sonntag.

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The journalists, Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, were arrested in mid-October for interviewing family members of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.

According to the ministry, Koch and Hellwig were supposed to receive visits during the Christmas period from family members, but the Iranian government reneged on its assurances to permit visitations, prompting Westerwelle to summon the ambassador on Monday.

The mother of Koch, a photographer, and the sister of Hellwig, a reporter, had arrived in Iran expecting to be allowed to see their loved ones.

The ministry spokesman told the Post that the family members and German Ambassador Bernd Erbel were finally allowed to meet with the journalists late on Monday evening and on Tuesday.

The journalists are being held in Tabriz, 600 km. northwest of Teheran. The meeting took place at a hotel in Tabriz and was the result of shuttle diplomacy between Westerwelle and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi.

Germany’s handling of the hostage crisis has sparked criticism in the international press and among some German bloggers.

A Wall Street Journal Europe editorial said in late November that “Berlin is reluctant to impose harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to shut down the Hamburg- based European Iranian Trade Bank, which the US Treasury blacklisted in September.

And as long as Teheran holds the journalists, Berlin will have to think twice about following Washington’s lead.

“Then again, the journalists’ fate could help steel Merkel’s resolve.”

A lengthy article in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung in mid-December criticized the “strange silence” of the German media regarding the hostage crisis.

Both the mainstream German media and the Foreign Ministry have refused to identify the reporters, although the English language press has named them.

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