The Price for Illicit Journalism

The two reporters of German tabloid BamS, Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, which had been sentenced to 20 months in prison on charges on “acting against national security” for illicitly entering Iran on tourist visas have been freed yesterday. Their sentence had been commuted to fines of $50’000 each. Koch and Hellwig had tried to interview Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s son in Tabriz in October 2010 and were arrested by Iranian authorities. Ms. Ashtiani’s case has caused international fury and concern after she had been sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery. While the stoning sentence had been suspended in the meantime, execution by hanging for complicity in her husband’s assassination is still imminent.

The international press hails German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who had made it to Tehran to personally pick up Koch and Hellwig.  In the meantime, Iran’s government-controlled broadcasting service presstv reports of a rare photo session of Westerwelle with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The meeting took place “in the early hours of Sunday morning,” presumably at 3 am. Westerwelle is thus the first western politician who actually met with Ahmadinejad. No kudos, definitely.

There are certain despots one should not join at any table. Ahmadinejad has organized an infamous “holocaust conference” in Tehran to which he had invited well-known holocaust deniers in order “to discuss and question” historical facts about the holocaust. His demagogic and notorious remarks on Israel have earned him a disastrous reputation of an inconvincible anti-Semite. His re-election in 2009 is widely regarded illegitimate. Westerwelle’s humiliation of sitting next to poorly dressed-up Ahmadinejad at a table in his office being forced of agreeing to the President’s world views cannot be more disturbing.

Is that the price for tolerating poor and illicit journalism? Koch and Hellwig will report about their “adventures” in the prison in Tabriz soon. Meanwhile, the huge damage for the German Foreign Ministry can hardly be assessed in full right now.

Last modified February 20, 2011.

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