Iran frees six Slovak paragliders after spying accusations

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 02, 2013 6:00 AM

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Six out of eight Slovak citizens detained in Iran since May on suspicion of spying after taking photographs while paragliding have been released and returned home, Prime Minister Robert Fico said.

Iran media said they were detained on suspicion of taking photographs of restricted areas. Slovak news website said the group was detained near the central Iranian city of Isfahan, where there is uranium conversion facility.

Speaking at a news conference attended by the released Slovaks, Fico said the government also had a plan how to proceed to secure the release of the remaining two.

"Negotiations were fair and their result is the release of six out of eight detainees," Fico said in a recording of Sunday evening's briefing posted on the government's website.

He said Slovakia did not make any "financial commitments" in the process.

Iran has repeatedly leveled accusations of espionage against foreign nationals and Iranians in recent years.

Last year, Iranian-American Amir Hekmati was sentenced to death for spying for the CIA but judges overturned the decision and ordered a retrial.

One of the released paragliders, Vladislav Frigo, said the group did not break any rules it was aware of.

"We had information that there was a ban on taking photographs below the height of 2,300 meters. We were taking pictures from higher (altitudes)," Frigo said.

Hold The Damn Vote Already
Derek Hunter

Frigo said the detainees were well treated, had access to television, a refrigerator and could cook for themselves as well as getting regular meals.

In 2011, Iran freed two U.S. citizens - Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer - who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for spying after being arrested while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border in 2009. They denied being spies. Neighboring Oman helped secure their release by posting bail of $1 million.

A third person detained with them, Sarah Shourd, was freed in 2010.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams)