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Editor reacts to German journalists accused of spying in Iran

From Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
  • The Germans are charged after interviewing a woman's son and lawyer
  • Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is sentenced to die by stoning for adultery
  • The journalists said on Iranian TV they were tricked and used by an anti-stoning activist
  • The two men were identified only as a reporter and photojournalist

(CNN) -- The editor for a German tabloid newspaper expressed strong concern Wednesday over two journalists charged with spying in Iran.

"We've been extremely worried for a month now about our two reporters imprisoned in Iran," Walter Mayer, chief editor of Bild am Sonntag, said in the newspaper. "We're doing everything in our power to help our colleagues and their relatives. We will not give out further details for their safety." The rest of the piece confirms that both are Bild am Sonntag journalists.

Iran has charged two German journalists who interviewed the son and lawyer of a woman condemned to die by stoning with espionage, Iranian media reported Tuesday.

"Their reports and propaganda in Tabriz proved that they are in the country for spying," Malek Ajdar Shafiee, the head of the Justice Department of East Azarbaijan, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

The two men, identified only as a reporter and photojournalist, were arrested last month in the northwest city of Tabriz after they interviewed the son and lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery in 2006 and sentenced to death by stoning.

The Iranian government also said Ashtiani was involved in her husband's murder, a charge her family has denied.

The charges against the two Germans came a day after they were shown on Iranian state-run television. A program produced by Iran's Channel 2 quoted one of the men saying that the two were "tricked" by an activist with the German-based International Committee Against Stoning into entering the country illegally.

The unnamed man told the television station that the committee's spokeswoman, Mina Ahadi, used the journalists for her own gain.

"Mina Ahadi sent me to Iran because she knew she would benefit from my arrest, and I'll sue her when I get back to Germany," the man said.

Ahadi denied that the journalists traveled on behalf of the anti-stoning organization.

Meanwhile, a German diplomat based in the embassy in Tehran was granted consular access for a second time Tuesday to the two German nationals, the German Foreign Office said in a statement.

Monday's broadcast also showed a woman identified as Ashtiani. The woman, whose face was blurred and whose words were translated from the Azeri language to Farsi, blamed Ahadi for spreading false information about her case around the world.

Ashtiani's son Sajjad Gaderzadeh and her lawyer, Hootan Kian, were also interviewed on the program -- the first time they have appeared on television since their arrests last month.

Kian, a government-appointed lawyer, has been critical of the government's handling of Ashtiani's case. He told CNN in August that she was being tortured while in prison and that he also feared for his own life.

Gaderzadeh said Kian had told him that his mother was being tortured. "Unfortunately, I listened to them and lied to the foreign media about everything," he said on the program.

This is the third time Ashtiani has appeared on state-run television confessing to the charges of adultery and murder.

"I am a sinner," she said Monday on the program.

The International Committee Against Stoning condemned the televised confession.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran's goal in airing this program is to agitate public opinion against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and Mina Ahadi," the organization said in a statement. "Yet despite all efforts, in and of itself the program is a powerful reflection of the international campaign to save Sakineh."

Iranian courts have said Ashtiani's case is still under review.

CNN's Diana Magnay contributed to this report