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Saturday, October 10, 1998 Published at 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK

World: Europe

Germany protests over Iranian sentence

The German government is protesting to Iran over a death sentence given to a German businessman for having an affair with a Muslim Iranian woman.

The German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, said he was shocked by the Iranian court ruling, which upheld a sentence handed down in January.

"The confirmation of the death sentence throws a new shadow upon the desire of both governments to improve relations," Mr Kinkel said in a statement.

Shirzad Bozorghmez, Editor of Iranian News, says this is not the end yet
The appeals court found the German businessman, Helmut Hofer, guilty after two sittings and sentenced him to hanging.

Mr Hofer, 56, was first sentenced to death in January soon after his arrest for having an "illicit" affair with a 26-year-old unmarried medical student, Vahideh Qassemi.

Ms Qassemi was sentenced to 100 lashes.

It is illegal under Iranian law to have sex outside marriage, and if the man is not a Muslim the sentence is death.

Mr Hofer has said he converted to Islam when he married a Turkish national whom he has now divorced.

The appeals court had earlier assured German officials that Mr Hofer would be freed because the court was satisfied he was a Muslim and would marry the Iranian woman.

The case will now go to the Supreme Court for a further appeal.

Germany has made it clear that relations with Iran could worsen considerably if Mr Hofer is executed.

Relations between Germany and Iran had been improving lately.

Germany is Iran's leading western trade partner, and western governments have been encouraged by the election last year of the reformist president, Mohamed Khatami.

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