Four of Germany's ex-presidents have urged Iran to release two German reporters held since October. The appeal has led to Tehran indicating the two might be permitted to celebrate Christmas with their families.
Clockwise from upper left: von Weizsaecker, Herzog, Scheel, and Koehler
Four German statesmen - Horst Koehler, Roman Herzog, Walter Scheel and Richard von Weizsaecker - on Sunday published an appeal to the Iranian government to free two German journalists held in Tehran since October.
The joint plea appeared in the mass circulation weekly Bild am Sonntag, the paper for which the two reporters were working.
Koehler, who has been out of the media spotlight since stepping down in May, urged Tehran to release the journalists and enable them to join their families for the Christmas holidays.
Herzog, president from 1994 to 1999, said a "great cultural nation like Iran should exercise justice" and grant the two their freedom. He noted that "particularly in the Koran, the idea of mercy plays an important role."
'Accept freedom and free reporting'
The paper itself has also appealed for the reporters' release
Scheel, who was in office from 1974 to 1979, pointed to his own age, 92, to note that he had experienced "what it means not to be able to freely express one's opinion" - an apparent reference to the Nazi regime of his youth.
Every state must "accept freedom and free reporting by journalists, therefore I appeal to the Iranian government to release the two reporters before Christmas," Scheel added.
Von Weizsaecker, Germany's president from 1984 to 1994, described Iran as a "significant country with a great, independent culture [...] and a distinct self-confidence," also including a plea for Tehran not to take revenge on the journalists.
Tehran responds to German appeal
The two - a reporter and a photographer - were arrested on October 10 while interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
"They broke the law," Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a senior aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung weekly on Sunday.
"They entered the country on tourist visas and worked as journalists," he said, adding however, that the two were not facing charges of espionage as earlier reports had suggested.
Mashaie also said he was optimistic that the German request for the detained to be allowed to celebrate Christmas with their families would be granted.
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Andreas Illmer (AP, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler