The pair was freed Saturday.
German Foreign Ministry officials said Berlin had been trying for many weeks to win freedom for the pair, but only last week did Iran reach out to discuss terms for a release. The officials said Iran made it a condition for the release that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle meet with President Ahmadi-nejad. Germany agreed.
A Revolutionary Court in Tabriz then convicted the two German journalists, sentenced them to 20 months in prison, but then converted that sentence to a fine of $50,000 each and freed them on payment.
The two men, who worked for Bild Am Sonntag, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, were arrested last October 10 while they were in the middle of an interview with the son of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery.
Their crime was that they came into Iran on tourist visas, not journalist visas.
However, it wasn’t that simple in court.
The East Azerbaijan provincial Revolutionary Court issued a statement saying the two Germans “were charged with collaboration and complicity in actions against the national security of the Islamic Republic, but due to their special status and after it was revealed to the court that another suspect in the case had misused them to attain his goals and harm Iran’s national security, the court came to the conclusion that the German nationals deserved Islamic compassion and commutation of their punishment.”
The court did not explain who this “other suspect” was.
Westerwelle flew to Tehran and brought the pair home on a government plane Sunday. So far, the men—reporter Marcus Hellwig and photographer Jens Koch—have not said anything about their 132-day adventure in the Tabriz prison.
Westerwelle came under criticism in Germany for going to Iran. The leak saying he was forced to go came in response to the criticism that he was sashaying with torturers and killers.
The Islamic Republic apparently wanted the meeting for its propaganda value. The Foreign Ministry said Westerwelle’s visit “proved the failure of the EU policy on Iran.” The EU has asked that ministers from its 27 member states not visit Iran. “The Westerwelle visit puts an end to that policy,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry asserted.
The Foreign Ministry said Westerwelle spent an hour with Ahmadi-nejad and repeatedly raised the issue of human rights in Iran.
It issued a statement saying, “The minister’s trip had nothing but a humanitarian purpose. We did what was necessary to resolve the case of our two citizens and get them home after four months.”
It was the first visit to Iran by a German foreign minister since 2003. The visit only lasted hours and included a meeting with the foreign minister as well as the president.