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Germans imprisoned in Iran get first family visit

 FILE - In this undated file image made available by Amnesty International in London July 8, 2010, 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian ...

Iran German Journalists

FILE - In this undated file image made available by Amnesty International in London July 8, 2010, 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian ...

Iran allowed two imprisoned German journalists to meet family members for about 12 hours overnight, the first visit in the nearly three months since they were arrested while covering the case of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning.
The meeting began late Monday night in a hotel in the city of Tabriz, 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of the capital Tehran, where the Germans are being held in a prison, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. German officials said it lasted all night and the two were allowed to spend some of the time in private with their relatives in a hotel room.
Though Iranian and German authorities have not identified the two prisoners, Iran's state-run Press TV showed a passport belonging to Marcus Alfred Rudolf Hellwig and identified the second as Jens Andreas Koch. They were working as reporter and photographer for Germany's mass-circulation tabloid Bild am Sonntag.
German officials said the photographer's mother and the reporter's sister met them and then left Tabriz heading back to Tehran. Press TV broadcast on Tuesday brief footage of the meeting that showed the two men seated at a dining room table at the hotel restaurant. They sat with the two women wearing headscarves and several other men.
The visit ended Tuesday morning after the families and prisoners shared breakfast with the German ambassador to Iran and German Embassy staff.
In the days leading up to the visit, Germany brought intense pressure on Iran to let it go through and continued to demand the immediate release of the two men. The German Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's ambassador on Monday to complain that they were not allowed to meet with relatives over Christmas.
The men were arrested in October while interviewing the son and lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. The son and lawyer were also arrested at the same time. The interview took place in Tabriz, where Ashtiani lived before her arrest.
Ashtiani's sentence of death by stoning, which Iran has put on hold, has brought harsh condemnation from the U.S., the European Union and rights groups who are demanding Tehran stay the execution. It has further strained Iran's relations with world powers, already tense over the country's disputed nuclear program.
Iran has also been holding two American prisoners for more than a year, and says it is going to put them on trial for spying. Iran had originally accused them of illegally crossing the border from northern Iraq. The American government and the prisoners' families say they were innocent hikers and if they crossed the border, it was inadvertent.
The Germans have been held since early October. Iranian officials accuse them of violating laws forbidding those who enter the country on tourist visas to work as journalists. Iran's judiciary rejected earlier claims by local officials who accused the two of espionage, and no spy charges have been filed against them.
Bild quoted German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as thanking his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi "for his support" in arranging the meeting.
Much back-and-forth diplomacy apparently went into the meeting.
Bild has reported that the meeting was first planned for Saturday and then rescheduled for Sunday, but both were canceled.
Early in December, Iran signaled the two journalists could be released in a goodwill gesture on the occasion of the New Year holiday. But on Tuesday, Mehmanparast said their case was still under investigation.
Associated Press Writer Kirsten Grieshaber and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-08-02 07:57 GMT+08:00