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Iran confirms spying charges against two Germans

Germans had been accused of working illegally as reporters.

November 16, 2010 11:45 by

Two Germans arrested in Iran as they interviewed the son of a woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death are being held on espionage charges, judiciary officials were quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Iran had initially accused the Germans, who entered the country on tourist visas, of working illegally as reporters when they interviewed the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose death sentence was suspended amid global outrage.

But the head of the judiciary in Eastern Azerbaijan province said they faced spying charges, a crime which carries heavy penalties and can be punishable by death.

“The espionage charge for the two German citizens who came to Iran to stage propaganda and spying has been approved,” Malekajdar Sharifi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

The case has added to strains between Iran and the West as diplomats are talking about resuming negotiations in the coming weeks on Iran’s nuclear programme, which some countries fear is aimed at making a bomb, something Tehran denies.

The stoning sentence for adultery received global media attention, with the EU calling it “barbaric”, the Vatican pleading for clemency and Brazil offering Ashtiani asylum.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied Ashtiani was ever sentenced to death by stoning, accusing foreign media of whipping up the story to discredit Iran.

Authorities have said the stoning sentence for adultery had been suspended but that Ashtiani could still be hanged if sentenced for complicity in the murder of her husband.

Iranian television aired an interview with the Germans on Monday in which they said they had been deceived by an Iranian activist in Germany.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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