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Iran hints at possible release of German journalists

By Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iran says Germans could be release by Christmas
  • The men are charged after interviewing a woman's son and lawyer
  • Iran says the pair entered Iran on tourist visas
  • The two men are a reporter and photojournalist for a German newspaper

(CNN) -- Iran's foreign ministry says the two German journalists who are being held in the country on espionage charges could be released by Christmas.

"There is a new request filed. Given the New Year and Christmas time, it may be possible to reunite with their families. We are following this," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said during a weekly briefing to reporters in Tehran on Tuesday.

The two men, who work for the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, were arrested in October in the northwest city of Tabriz after they interviewed the son and lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Ashtiani was convicted of adultery in 2006 and sentenced to death by stoning. The Iranian government also said Ashtiani was involved in her husband's murder, a charge her family has denied.

Last month Iran charged the two journalists with espionage, according to Iranian media.

"Their reports and propaganda in Tabriz proved that they are in the country for spying," Malek Ajdar Shafiee, the head of the Justice Department of East Azarbaijan, was quoted last month as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Mehmanparast told reporters on Tuesday that the release request was being considered due to Iran's "humanitarian approach," but reiterated that the final decision was in the hands of the Iranian Judiciary.

"Their case is being looked into (and) they have accepted that they have made violations. The courts are investigating the issue. Judiciary officials will be the ones to pass judgment regarding their fate," Mehmanparast said.