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The BBC's Jim Muir
"Diplomats here in Tehran are shocked at the severity of such sentances"
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The BBC's Rob Broomby
"The sentences have caused concern in the German capital"
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Sunday, 4 February, 2001, 19:30 GMT
Western reporters 'threatened with jail'
Akbar Ganji, right, with lawyer
An interview with Mr Ganji (right) led to the row
Two Western journalists who left Tehran "under threat that [they] would go to jail" will not be allowed to return to Iran, a Ministry of Culture official said on Sunday.

We were threatened both verbally and in writing by the authorities

American journalist Geneive Abdo
Reuters bureau chief Jonathan Lyons and Guardian correspondent Geneive Abdo left the Islamic republic on Friday morning as a row deepened over an interview they conducted with a jailed Iranian journalist.

The two American journalists, who are husband and wife, quoted pro-reform writer Akbar Ganji as warning of a violent backlash against Iran's conservative rule.

The Culture Ministry accused the two of "distorting Ganji's remarks", but Reuters stand by Mr Lyons.

Ms Abdo said that she believed Mr Ganji retracted his interview under pressure.

Harsh sentence

Last month Mr Ganji was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years' internal exile after participating in a Berlin conference on reform in Iran.

Mr Ganji's was the longest sentence meted out to any of the 17 defendants at the trial, which was the subject of international criticism.

A crusading journalist who exposed the regime's complicity in the murder of dissident intellectuals, Mr Ganji has powerful enemies.

The Culture Ministry, which accredits foreign journalists, denied earlier reports that Mr Lyons and Ms Abdo had been expelled.

'Verbal and written threats'

But although there may have been no official expulsion order, Ms Abdo told BBC News Online that she and her husband "were threatened both verbally and in writing by the authorities with possible prosecution".

We did not feel we had the guarantees we needed of Lyons' continued well-being in Tehran

She told the BBC that she and Mr Lyons had been harassed by the authorities for the past eight months.

Reuters said that it had received a letter from the Iranian authorities threatening the news organisation with unspecified action.

It said that it had decided to withdraw Mr Lyons after getting the letter saying he had committed illegal acts and that he and Reuters would "have to bear the consequences".

"We regret the attitude of the Iranian authorities but we did not feel we had the guarantees we needed of Lyons' continued well-being in Tehran," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank said.

Mr Lyons was appointed Reuters bureau chief in Tehran when the agency reopened its office there in 1998.

Mr Linnebank said Reuters was reviewing its options for future coverage of Iran.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iran sentences spark row
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Backlash gathers pace
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Conference that created a furore
13 Aug 00 | Middle East
Iranian MPs pledge to continue reform
20 Apr 00 | Middle East
Court summons for Iranian reformists
04 Oct 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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