Iran: British-Greek Reporter Held for Weeks Freed

By: AP
By: AP

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has released a British-Greek journalist held for more than two weeks since demonstrations erupted following disputed presidential elections, Iran's state television reported Sunday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said that Iason Athanasiadis, believed to be the only journalist held in the widespread crackdown who does not hold Iranian citizenship, had been released in the framework of "Tehran-Athens ties."

There were no details on Athanasiadis' current location.

The news comes amid increasingly strident rhetoric by both pro-government and opposition forces in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential elections that provoked weeks of demonstrations in the streets that were later crushed by security forces.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has called the election a fraud and claims that he, not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is the real winner. More than a thousand people were detained, including many journalists and bloggers, although many of them have been released.

While the street protests have largely been silenced, debate still rages within Iranian society showing the deep fissures the election has produced. On Sunday, the son of an Iranian revolutionary icon called for parliament to dismiss President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a rare call by such a high-profile person.

Ali Reza Beheshti, 47, a close Mousavi ally and son of one of the main leaders of the 1979 Islamic revolution, also urged the parliament to reverse the election results, saying that "people expect their representatives to represent them and not to defend authorities by any means."

"I wish the lawmakers would respect the demands of the majority of their constituents" and submit a bill disqualifying the president, Beheshti was quoted as saying on the Web site Norooznews, which is close to main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Beheshti, the editor of Mousavi's now-banned Kalemeh newspaper, is the younger son of Ayatollah Mohammad Hossein Beheshti, Iran's top judge who was killed in a bombing in 1981.

The British-trained academic does not wield the influence of some of the clerics who have criticized the elections, but his calling for the president's removal is a rarity in Iran and indicates the opposition is remaining firm in the face of increased pressure form the ruling clerics.

Another defeated candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, also said he would continue his fight even though "we may face difficulties on the way," he was quoted as saying Sunday on his Web site. The comment came in a speech to his supporters in which he also said that many lawmakers, "including conservatives, do not support the winner of the election."

Iran's leadership has lashed out at the critics of the election. On Sunday the conservative Kayhan newspaper ran its second consecutive editorial targeting Mousavi and his backers, dubbing them as dangerous.

"How should the Islamic Republic treat such groups? They would be a dangerous opposition if they were to win, and set the streets on fire if they lose," said Sunday's editorial. "The meaning of such behaviors is that they do not accept the system."

A day earlier, the paper ran another editorial accusing Mousavi of being an American agent and suggested he be tried for treason.

Athanasiadis, a freelance reporter who had been working for The Washington Times, was covering the election and its aftermath when he was detained on or around June 19. A dual national with both Greek and British citizenship, he is believed to be the only journalist held in the widespread crackdown who does not hold Iranian citizenship.

A Newsweek correspondent, Maziar Bahari, a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, is also in custody.

Qashqavi said that in the past Athanasiadis had traveled to Iran as a journalist using a British passport, and had been banned from entering the country for "violating the law."

Qashqavi said when Athanasiadis returned on his Greek passport he got involved in "illegal activities" during the post-election unrest and was detained because of "activities contrary to the profession of journalism."

Athanasiadis' parents appealed for his release, calling him a reporter, photographer and filmmaker with a love and respect for Iran.

The fallout from the election has led to wide rifts between Iran's clergy as pro-Mousavi dissent mounts among the clerics.

A group of clerics from Qom, a city known south of Tehran known as a center of scholarship for Shiite Islam, issued a statement last week supporting Mousavi. The statement urged religious leaders to back Mousavi supporters, and to "oppose oppressors and aid oppressed" people.

Iranian officials have countered that Mousavi's supporters were operating at the behest of foreign powers - namely Britain and the United States.

Officials had detained nine Iranians working at the British Embassy in Tehran,

All but one have been released, according to Abdolsamad Khorramshi, the lawyer for the employee still in custody, while the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Sunday that two employees were still in custody, and one was to be released Sunday. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Khorramshi said that the ninth employee, who he identified as Hossein Rassam, a political analyst at the embassy, was charged with harming Iran's national security.

The crackdown has spread to top opposition leaders, as well, with about a dozen detained since the protests began, said lawyer Saleh Nikbakht, who represents a number of them.

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