- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Iran on Sunday freed Iason Athanasiadis, a freelance reporter who had traveled to the country to cover Iran’s presidential elections for The Washington Times.

Mr. Athanasiadis had been detained in Iran since June 17, when he was arrested at Tehran’s airport while preparing to leave the country in the aftermath of the vote.

Greek diplomats took the lead in securing the release of the reporter, who holds dual citizenship in Greece and Britain.

“I would like to express my deep satisfaction for the release of Iason Athanasiadis, following close and continuous contacts with the Foreign Ministry of Iran and under difficult conditions for all. This case has finally come to a happy conclusion,” Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said in a statement. “I hope that his family won’t ever have to relive the agony they experienced over the last fortnight.”

Times Executive Editor John Solomon thanked both Greece and the Iranian government.

“We’d like to publicly thank the Greek government for its relentless efforts to free Iason from captivity and to express our appreciation to Iran’s government for listening to our private humanitarian pleas, setting aside whatever difference it had with Western governments and allowing Iason to reunite with his family, which had suffered so much anguish these last two weeks,” Mr. Solomon said in a statement.

No charges were filed against Mr. Athanasiadis.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, in announcing the decision to free the reporter, told Iranian state television that in the past the journalist had traveled to Iran using a British passport. Mr. Qashqavi said that when Mr. Athanasiadis returned on his Greek passport he became involved in encouraging demonstrators protesting the results of the June 12 election and was arrested because of this “unprofessional” behavior. The spokesman gave no specifics.

Hundreds of journalists, bloggers and political activists have been arrested in the aftermath of the vote, which the Iranian government contends was won in a landslide by incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Athanasiadis is thought to have been the only non-Iranian detained. A Newsweek correspondent, Maziar Bahari, a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, is still in being held in custody, along with more than a dozen Iranian journalists.

The release occurred as the Iranian government and opposition political forces continued a rhetorical confrontation over the disputed election.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate, insists that he was the victor and has won backing from former President Mohammed Khatami, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s predecessor; Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist candidate in the elections; and several influential senior Shi’ite Muslim clerics.

Hard-line newspapers connected with the Iranian government have accused Mr. Mousavi of being an American agent and suggested he be tried for treason. Iranian officials have also blamed Britain for inciting protests and last week detained nine Iranians working at the British Embassy in Tehran.

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, the lawyer for American reporter Roxana Saberi, who was released from an Iranian prison in May, told the Associated Press that all but one of the embassy employees have been freed. He identified the detainee as Hossein Rassam, a chief political analyst at the embassy.

Iran’s chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said that of the more than 1,000 people arrested in postelection violence, “two-thirds have been freed,” Agence France-Presse reported, quoting Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. Human rights groups have said that as many as 2,000 people were arrested.

The Iranian government has said that 20 people were killed in postelection violence, but a spokesman for Mr. Mousavi put the toll at nearly 250.

Besides the Greek government and The Times, other individuals and organizations made efforts to secure Mr. Athanasiadis’ freedom, including the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, a Washington-based nonprofit that helped support Mr. Athanasiadis’ travel to Iran, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York.

“Iason is a consummate professional,” said Jon Sawyer, the Pulitzer Center’s executive director. “He brings to his reporting on Iran a deep knowledge of that country’s language, culture and people. We welcome his release.”

“We are relieved that Iason’s ordeal has come to an end and that he will soon be reunited with his family and loved ones,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “However, there are still around 20 journalists imprisoned in Iran. We hope that they, too, will be released soon.”

While in Iran, Mr. Athanasiadis also wrote for GlobalPost.com, a Web-based news site devoted to foreign affairs.

“We are thrilled with the now-confirmed news of Iason’s release,” GlobalPost Executive Editor Charles M. Sennott said in a statement.

Fluent in Farsi as well as Greek and English, Mr. Athanasiadis is a graduate of Oxford University. He lived in Iran for three years while earning a master’s degree and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008.

A talented photojournalist and television producer as well as a print reporter, Mr. Athanasiadis has also reported from North Africa, the Levant, Egypt, Syria and the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf.

His stories show a deep understanding of cultures and an appreciation for the plight of religious and ethnic minorities in Europe, such as Muslim Afghan refugees in Greece. He has a special fondness for Iran and was delighted when he obtained a visa to cover the elections there last month.

Hours before he was detained, he sent an e-mail to his girlfriend, which she shared with CPJ.

“It’s my last day,” he wrote on June 17. “When will I be back? Who knows? I love this country so much.”

• Mehdi Jedinia contributed to this report.

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