German foreign minister picks up journalists in Iran

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BERLIN/TEHRAN - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was on his way back to Germany early Sunday with two journalists set free by Tehran.

Westerwelle also met with top officials including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and thanked his counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi for his efforts to release the two men.

Westerwelle is bringing the two journalists - Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch of Bild am Sonntag newspaper - back to Germany on a government plane after they were set free Saturday.

The reporters were detained four months ago after entering the country on tourist visas and allegedly conducting interviews.

They were released Saturday from custody in the northwestern city of Tabriz, where they had been in custody since Oct 10. By late Saturday the pair were at the German embassy in Tehran.

Westerwelle arrived in Tehran Saturday, but before he could return he held discussions with Iranian leaders.

The reporters had intended to interview the son and lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, who has been jailed on charges of adultery and involvement in the murder of her husband.

The men were fined 500 million rials ($48,400) instead of being given a prison sentence, the Isna news agency reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted the news of the release with relief.

“I am very happy that Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch are finally able to return to Germany as free people,” Merkel told Bild am Sonntag, the newspaper that employed the two men.

“I hope that they recover quickly - physically and psychologically - and overcome the hard events of the last months. My thoughts are with their families, for whom a difficult time of uncertainty has ended,” she was quoted as saying.

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