TEHRAN — The Iranian government, which last week invited nearly 100 foreign journalists to cover its latest offensive against Iraq, has detained the Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib.
Iranian officials from the government's Ministry of Guidance, which had accredited Seib, an American, refused to comment on why he was detained Saturday, two days after his passport was taken by government officials without explanation.
An Islamic Republic News Agency report late Saturday alleged that a spy for the "Zionist regime" of Israel had been detained in Iran after entering the country posing as a journalist and using a false passport. The three-paragraph report, monitored in Cyprus, did not name the alleged spy nor give his nationality. It was not clear if the report referred to Seib.
It is not known where Seib is being held. His U.S. colleagues, including this reporter, whose visas expired at midnight Saturday, left Tehran on Sunday morning after unsuccessful efforts to contact him again.
In New York, Norman Pearlstine, managing editor of the Journal, said: "Jerry Seib is a highly respected foreign correspondent and there can be no basis for his detention. We are seeking explanations through Iranian and other diplomatic channels. We hope any confusion will be cleared up, and we are requesting his immediate release from detention and from Iran."
A State Department protest Sunday over the incident underlined the fact that Seib had entered Iran at the invitation of the Iranian government and that he carried a valid U.S. passport.
There was no indication in Tehran why the 30-year-old, Cairo-based correspondent had been singled out for detention. He was one of a large group of journalists invited to Iran in the last two weeks to cover the offensive against the Iraqi port of Basra.
Seib went on a conducted tour to the front last week, then returned to Tehran to cover a press conference Wednesday by the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Seib's problems began when he and other American and British journalists sought to have their five-day visas extended to make suitable airline departure plans.
Hassan Fekri, an official at the ministry's press office, said there would be "no problem" getting short renewals. He issued the journalists letters that were to be taken, with their passports, to an immigration office.
On Thursday, six journalists who had applied for visa extensions were granted them and their passports were returned. Seib's was not because, he was told, there was an unspecified "problem."
On Friday, Seib contacted the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.
A Swiss envoy accompanied Seib to the Immigration Department on Saturday morning, but no one there seemed to know--or not to want to know--about the case. The Swiss diplomat said nothing could be done and took Seib to the Swiss Embassy for protection.
Seib and another Swiss diplomat returned to his hotel room but were not allowed to collect his belongings. When they tried to leave the hotel they were detained by police, although the Swiss diplomat was released about 30 minutes later.