German journalists held in Iran after 'stoning' interview

Journalists were interviewing Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's son and lawyer, who have also gone missing

Two German journalists have been arrested in Iran after conducting an interview with the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, Sajad, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, are also believed to have been detained.

The journalists, a reporter and a photographer said to be from Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper, were interviewing Sajad Ghaderzadeh in the north-west city of Tabriz in East Azerbaijan province when officials raided the office of the lawyer. Their names have not been released and it is not clear where they are being kept at the moment.

"I was on the phone with one of the journalists in the middle of their interview when apparently a group of officials raided the office and our communication was instantly interrupted," said Mina Ahadi of Iran's Committee Against Stoning (Icas).

Iran's prosecutor general confirmed the arrests, the students' news agency ISNA reported. "Two foreigners posing as journalists have been arrested in Iran," said Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

A spokesman for Bild am Sonntag said it had no knowledge of the arrests. "We do not know anything of any arrests of employees of our company".

A German foreign ministry spokesman said: "We are aware of these reports and the facts behind them. We at the foreign ministry in Berlin as well as our embassy in Iran are trying on different levels and very intensively to clarify the circumstances of these reports."

According to Ahadi, who was helping the journalists with translation by phone from Germany, the two arrived in Tehran five days ago for an interview with Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, whose campaign to save her mother from stoning has caught the world's attention since July this year. Sajad has repeatedly been warned by Iran's intelligence service not to talk to media.

"It was around 5pm in Germany when it happened, I could hear them shouting, 'What is happening?' at the other end of the phone in Iran and they told me they should hang up and I have not heard from them since," she said.

"I'm very worried about them because Germany has been very outspoken about the human rights abuses in Iran and Iran might keep them for a long time for a retaliation, like they did with the French academic Clotilde Reiss," she said.

Today, Mohammadi Ashtiani's family have confirmed that Sajad has not returned since last night and the lawyer is missing. It is not clear whether the journalists had permission to work in Iran.

Last December two German diplomats were arrested in Tehran for what Iran described as their involvement in anti-governmental protest. Germany is among those countries which condemned the stoning punishment in Iran and asked for the release of Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Since the disputed presidential election in June 2009, Iran has cracked down on foreign and local media. More than 100 journalists and bloggers have been arrested and at least 65 still remain in jail. Eight newspapers have been shut down.

Recently, Iranian-Canadian journalist Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, another journalist and a blogger, was also sentenced to 15 years last week.

Two American nationals, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who were arrested more than 14 months ago, are still being kept in Tehran's Evin prison. Iran says they crossed the Iran-Iraq border illegally and have charged them with espionage.


Saeed Kamali Dehghan

The GuardianTramp

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