Iran frees Slovak paragliders

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Picture: GEORGES GOBET

Tehran - Two Slovak paragliders arrested in Iran for allegedly spying returned home early on Friday after 205 days in prison, officials said.

“We learned our lesson and we'll try to prepare better for our journeys and think twice when picking our destinations,” one of the paragliders Pavol Seliga told journalists upon arriving in Bratislava overnight.

The pair were the last of eight Slovak extreme-sports tourists who had been detained in May. The other six were released in September.

Leftist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico flew to Iran on Thursday to bring them back home.

Iran's judiciary said in July it was probing nine people - one Iranian and eight Slovaks - arrested for “illegal activities, including photographing restricted areas” in the central Isfahan province, which is home to nuclear facilities including the Natanz uranium enrichment site.

Isfahan is located about 330 kilometres south of the capital Tehran.

According to Seliga, the conditions in the Iranian prison were “appropriate” and they were in regular contact with the Slovak embassy in Tehran and their families.

Slovak media said Iran investigated Seliga longer than the others because he is a nuclear physicist.

Marek Stolarcik, who was also held in prison for almost seven months, is a professional cameraman.

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 said 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 a popular brand of cameras designed for extreme sports.

The international community has imposed a battery of sanctions against Iran, accusing it of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover for developing a weapons capability - charges Tehran flatly denies.

Iran reached a landmark deal with six world powers last month under which it agreed to freeze parts of its suspect nuclear programme for six months in return for some $7 billion in relief from Western sanctions. - AFP

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