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Freed German reporters arrive home from Iran

world Updated: Feb 20, 2011 20:32 IST

Two German journalists arrived home on Sunday after being freed from four months of detention in Iran for meeting the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle flew to Tehran on Saturday -- the first visit of a German foreign minister to Iran since 2003 -- to pick up the reporters and meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, who work for the German weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag, were arrested after interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose death sentence for adultery was suspended this month after a global outcry. Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is punishable by stoning.

The two men arrived in Berlin on a plane with Westerwelle early on Sunday.

"Their big emotional strain is reflected in their physical state," said an official at the foreign ministry who declined to be named. "Emotionally shaken is just one way of putting it."

The reporters' detention since October put extra strain on relations between Berlin and Tehran at a time of tension over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West says is covertly aimed at developing an atomic bomb, something Tehran denies.

The foreign ministry source said Tehran had demanded that Springer Verlag -- publisher of Bild am Sonntag -- apologise and that a fine be paid before the two men were released.

A Revolutionary Court on Saturday sentenced them to 20 months in jail, but then commuted their sentences to $50,000 fines, the Iranian student news agency ISNA said.

Iran says the Germans entered Iran on tourist visas and were working as reporters illegally. Accredited journalists working for foreign media need official permission to travel outside Tehran.