Two German reporters charged with espionage in Iran

New York, November 17, 2010–Iranian authorities announced on Tuesday that two German reporters for Bild am Sonntag will be charged with espionage, according to international news reports. They were arrested in October while interviewing the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning on charges of adultery. The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by these developments and calls on Iranian authorities to drop the charges and release the reporters immediately.

On Tuesday, Malekajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in Eastern Azerbaijan province announced that the two reporters would be charged with spying. “The espionage charge for the two German citizens who came to Iran to stage propaganda and spying has been approved,” Sharifi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency. Espionage in Iran carries lengthy prison terms and the possibility of the death penalty.

Reuters reported that Iranian television aired an interview on Monday in which the two said “they had been deceived by an Iranian activist in Germany who had persuaded them to do the interview.”

“Leveling serious anti-state charges such as espionage has become the standard method used by the Iranian authorities to silence local and international media,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. “We call on the government to drop these charges and release these two reporters and the dozens of others jailed for their work immediately.”

The two Germans, whose names have not been disclosed, were arrested on October 10 during an interview with the son of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a woman who was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. They entered Iran on tourist visas and initially were accused of working illegally, according to news reports. Bild am Sonntag, a German tabloid, confirmed that the two had been working as reporters for the paper without releasing their names, Reuters reported. “For over a month we have been worried about two reporters from Bild am Sonntag who have been detained in Iran,” Walter Mayer, the editor-in-chief, said in a statement. “We are doing all in our power to help the colleagues and their families.”

A day after the two reporters were arrested, Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei denied that they were journalists. “It turned out that the two people were not journalists–or that they had no proof for it, and had entered the country as tourists,” Mohseni-Ejei said in an October 11 report from Iranian state broadcaster Press TV.

On November 23, CPJ will honor imprisoned Iranian journalist Mohammad Davari with its International Press Freedom Award. Davari is serving a five-year prison-term for “mutiny against the regime,” and is one of dozens of reporters jailed  under similar pretexts in Iran.