Iran frees Slovak paragliders accused of spying
Published Thursday 12/12/2013 (updated) 14/12/2013 10:23
Map of Iran locating Isfahan, which is home to nuclear facilities
including the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Graphic/AFP/File)
TEHRAN (AFP) -- Two Slovak paragliders arrested in Iran for allegedly spying were in their country's embassy in Tehran after their premier flew in to secure their release, the Bratislava government said Thursday.
"Prime Minister Robert Fico and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak have concluded negotiations with Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri in Tehran," said the Slovak premier's spokeswoman Beatrice Hudakova.
"Both Slovak officials have met the paragliders at Slovakia's embassy in Tehran," she said in a statement issued in Bratislava.
The pair were the last of eight Slovak paragliders who had been detained in May, after the remaining six were released in September.
Iranian state news agency IRNA had said that they had been released on Wednesday, although the Slovak government had been unable to confirm this until Thursday.
"Two citizens who were arrested for violating the laws of the Islamic republic of Iran were released and handed over to their embassy," IRNA had reported.
In July, Iran's judiciary said it was probing nine people -- the eight Slovaks and one Iranian -- arrested for "illegal activities, including photographing restricted areas" in the central Isfahan province, which is home to nuclear facilities including the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
The city of Isfahan lies some 200 miles south of the capital.
The international community has imposed a battery of sanctions against Iran, accusing it of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing a weapons capability -- charges Tehran flatly denies.
Friends of the paragliders have told AFP they were not spies, but were travelling to film documentaries from a bird's-eye view.
They said the men were in Iran to collect material for a second film, after making a documentary last year on paragliding over the Himalayas.
Senior Iranian prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie charged that the men had smuggled in unspecified "equipment."
The paragliders ran into trouble for using two-band walkie talkies reportedly banned in Iran, as well as cameras designed for extreme sports.