Middle East

Iran spy charges for Germans over Ashtiani stoning case

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (file photo)
Image caption Ms Ashtiani's case has sparked worldwide condemnation

Iran has charged two Germans with spying after they interviewed the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, reports say.

The charges come a day after they appeared on Iranian state TV and said they had been "tricked" by an activist in Germany into speaking with the family of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

The pair were arrested in Tabriz, north-west Iran, in October.

They have been identified only as a reporter and a photographer.

Germany has said it is doing all it can to try to secure their release.

TV 'confessions'

"The espionage charge for the two German citizens who came to Iran to stage propaganda and spying has been approved," Malekajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in Eastern Azerbaijan province, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Last month, Iran said the two had confessed to working as reporters in the country without the proper visas.

They travelled to Tabriz, in Iran's East Azerbaijan province, where they interviewed the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani - the 43-year-old Iranian woman whose sentence to be stoned for adultery has sparked international condemnation.

In Monday's broadcast, one of the Germans said he intended to sue activist Mina Ahadi, an Iranian exile living in Germany who has led the campaign to save Ms Ashtiani from execution.

"I accept that I made a mistake. Since I had no information on the case, I was tricked by Ms Ahadi," the second German man was quoted as saying.

A spokesman for Germany's foreign ministry said it was trying to verify the reports.

'I am a sinner'

Monday's broadcast on state television also included a woman identified as Ms Ashtiani who said: "I am a sinner."

Her face was blurred and her words were voiced over in what the TV report said was a translation into Farsi from Azeri.

Ms Ashtiani's stoning sentence was suspended in July this year, but last month, reports emerged that Iranian courts were instead considering hanging her for the murder of her husband.

Ms Ashtiani's lawyers insist she is innocent.

The report also broadcast purported statements by two men whose faces were blurred that state TV identified as Ms Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, both of whom were arrested last month.

In the broadcast, Mr Qaderzadeh retracted his previous allegations that his mother was tortured, and criticised Mr Kian and Ms Ashtiani's previous lawyer - who fled to Norway this summer - for publicising the case.

Iran's judiciary says a final decision has yet to be made about her case and that it is now focusing on the murder conspiracy conviction, rather than the adultery charges.

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