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German Paper Rejects Iran Spy Claim

A women poses during a demonstration of the National Council of Resistance of Iran against stoning and death penalty in Berlin (File)
A women poses during a demonstration of the National Council of Resistance of Iran against stoning and death penalty in Berlin (File)

A German newspaper has dismissed as "absurd" Iranian charges that two of its reporters detained in connection with a highly publicized stoning case were spying, and called for their immediate release.

Walter Mayer, editor-in-chief of the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag weekly, wrote in Sunday's edition that Iranian authorities "know perfectly well" that the two German nationals are journalists and nothing else.

In a front-page appeal, Mayer said the two -- a reporter and a photographer -- still do not have a lawyer. He urged Iran to spare them "debasing treatment" and called for German Embassy officials to be allowed visitation rights.

Bild am Sonntag had been largely silent on the case, but changed tactics after Iranian state television last week broadcast purported statements quoting the men as "confessing" they had been "tricked" into traveling to Iran.

The reporters were arrested in the western city of Tabriz in October while trying to interview the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence was suspended following a global outcry and is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court.

The 43-year-old mother of two was first convicted in 2006 for having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the death of her husband the year before and was sentenced at the time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.

The U.S., EU and international human rights groups have all urged Tehran to stay the execution.

Last week's televised report also included a purported statement by a woman identified as Ashtiani in which she calls herself a "sinner." The woman was shown with her face blurred and her words translated into Farsi from Azeri Turkish.

The Farsi voiceover in the broadcast quoted the two Germans as saying Mina Ahadi, founder of a German anti-stoning organization (the International Committee Against Stoning), had sent them to Iran so she could benefit from the propaganda surrounding their arrest.

Neither the newspaper nor the governments of the two countries have named the journalists.

The two reporters were initially accused of not having proper accreditation after entering Iran on tourist visa. They have since been charged with espionage.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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