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Friday, November 19, 2010

Iran: Old Habits Die Hard--Now Holding German Hostages

After the Iran Hostage Crisis and and the kidnapping of three American tourists by Iran, one might be forgiven for thinking that Iran's kidnapping was limited to American victims.

Now we know this is not the case, as Iran has branched out into kidnapping citizens of other countries as well:
Five German law makers recently returned from Iran, where they had traveled to promote "cultural exchange." They justified their meetings with Iranian officials in part as an attempt to win the release of two imprisoned German journalists. For their trouble, Tehran gave the parliamentarians a lesson in the futility of appeasement, charging the reporters on Tuesday with espionage.


The two Germans, who work for Bild am Sonntag but whose names have not been released, were arrested in mid-October while interviewing the family of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery. For dramatic effect, on Monday Iranian state-television broadcast blurred footage of the two, purportedly confessing to a "mistake" and blaming Mina Ahadi, an Iranian human-rights activist living in exile in Germany, of "tricking" them into traveling to Iran.

Back in Germany, Ms. Ahadi showed understanding for the journalists' predicament. "They have been in prison for a month . . . no contact with their family, no phone contact, only once have German diplomats visited these journalists. They are under pressure."

So is the German government. The espionage charges, which could carry the death sentence, come just as the West is trying to entice Iran to restart negotiations about its nuclear weapons program. Berlin is reluctant to impose harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel still refuses to shut down the Hamburg-based European Iranian Trade Bank, which the U.S. Treasury blacklisted in September. As long as Tehran hold those journalists, Berlin will have to think twice about following Washington's lead.

Then again, the fate of the two journalists could also help steel Mrs. Merkel's resolve. If having their journalists treated as hostages is what Germany gets for its "critical dialogue" and "cultural exchange" with Iran, then maybe it's time for her government to take a tougher line.
Iran seems intent on teaching its proteges in Hamas and Hezbollah the finer points of kidnapping and holding hostage.

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