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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:05 GMT
Iran angry at journalists' arrest

By Jim Muir
BBC correspondent in Tehran

The continued detention of two Iranian journalists - arrested by US forces in Iraq while filming at a checkpoint on 1 July - has stirred mounting concern and anger in Iran.

Soheil Karimi (Picture from the Abu Taleb-Karimi website)
The men are suspected of spying (Pictures from the campaign website)
The Iranian Government has sent an official protest to Washington through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which handles US interests. Diplomatic relations between the US and Iran were broken after the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Iranian officials say they have also stopped issuing visas to American and British journalists wanting to visit Iran. British forces are part of the US-led coalition in Iraq.

The main problem is knowing nothing about how they are, or what they're being accused of doing
Saeed Abu Taleb's wife
The two detained Iranians, director Saeed Abu Taleb and cameraman Soheil Karimi, were filming for the Iranian state television's second channel when they were arrested at Diwanieh in south-central Iraq.

Coalition officials say they are being held on suspicion of spying.

Until this week, the two men's families had virtually no news of them. After a month of silence, they received forms from the International Committee of the Red Cross with the rubber-stamped legend "Safe and Well" - but no further details.

Website

But Faranak Dalpay, Saeed Abu Taleb's wife, said that this week she received another letter with a four-line message from her husband. This followed a recent visit to the two men by Iranian consular officials who were allowed to see them in the Umm Qasr prison in southern Iraq.

"Just waiting, and having no news, is what's hard for the families - for me and the children," she said.

We were certainly very concerned about their activities
Coalition spokesman Charles Heatly
"The main problem is knowing nothing about how they are, or what they're being accused of doing. We just don't understand. We're waiting from minute to minute for the phone to ring, or to hear some news on the TV or radio."

Saeed Abu Taleb is a well-known documentary maker with a string of pioneering films to his credit.

He filmed, edited and scripted the first Iranian film on the marine life of the Persian Gulf.

His other works include dramatic documentaries on organ transplants, and the link between Aids and drug addiction in Iran. He is also the author of a chemistry textbook for schools.

Friends and family have set up a website to campaign for their release. Their case has been strongly taken up by Iranian officials.

'On-going investigations'

British diplomats have also been engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to press their US allies to resolve the case one way or the other.

At one stage, it was wrongly but widely reported in Iran that the two men had been handed over to British forces in Iraq, bringing additional pressure on the UK embassy in Tehran.

Officials of the US-led coalition in Baghdad denied that the two Iranians had simply disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole or were being held out of political spite.

Saeed Abu Taleb (Picture from the Abu Taleb-Karimi website)
Saeed Abu Taleb is a well-known documentary maker
"In the case of these journalists, there are investigations still going on," coalition spokesman Charles Heatly said.

"We were certainly very concerned about their activities, and believe that they may have been involved in espionage activities at the time of their arrest. They are being held as security internees.

"When those investigations have been completed, then a decision will be made as to whether either to bring criminal proceedings, to take any further proceedings on security grounds, or to release them," he added.

Mr Abu Taleb and Mr Karimi are among 55 Iranians being detained by coalition forces.

Iran says most of them are would-be pilgrims trying to reach Shia holy sites in southern Iraq, arrested for crossing the border illegally.

Coalition officials say they are holding fewer than 5,000 prisoners in all categories, including prisoners or war, common criminals, and security internees like Mr Abu Taleb and Mr Karimi.


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