- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

The freelance reporter who spent three weeks in an Iranian jail while covering that country’s election and its violent aftermath for The Washington Times said Friday he likely was targeted because he was among the “most vulnerable.”

“There was this Greek guy running around with a lot of friends on the ground,” Iason Athanasiadis, a dual citizen of Greece and Britain, told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News.” He speaks Farsi and studied and worked in Iran for more than two years.

Mr. Athanasiadis was arrested on June 17 while preparing to depart from Tehran’s airport. He acknowledged being beaten up when arrested but blamed himself and said he was not mistreated while detained.

“That’s my fault,” he said. “I decided to resist arrest and get the word out that I was being arrested. I didn’t want to just disappear… . That led to them hauling me off and giving me a couple of punches to keep me quiet. But once the whole interrogation cycle started, they were extremely kind and polite. There was no humiliation, which was the most important thing to me.”

Mr. Athanasiadis said he was arrested for suspected espionage, not overstaying his visa or breaking journalism ethics, as was reported widely. He also said not being a full-time staff reporter for a major news media organization contributed to his vulnerability.

John Solomon, executive editor of The Washington Times, thanked the governments of Greece and Iran for Mr. Athanasiadis’ release.

“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.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, in announcing the decision to free the reporter, told Iranian state television that in the past Mr. Athanasiadis 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.

“It’s fantastic to be back,” Mr. Athanasiadis said.

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