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UPDATED: Iran releases remaining Slovak paragliders

THE REMAINING two Slovak paragliders detained in Iran are back home. After more than 200 days spent in detention over espionage allegations, they were flown into Bratislava on December 13 shortly after 1:30 by a government airplane.

THE REMAINING two Slovak paragliders detained in Iran are back home. After more than 200 days spent in detention over espionage allegations, they were flown into Bratislava on December 13 shortly after 1:30 by a government airplane.

They were allowed to leave Iran after several hours of intense negotiations, involving Prime Minister Robert Fico and Slovak Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák, and the main deputy of Iranian president and first Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri on the Iranian side, the TASR newswire wrote. The talks then continued on the expert level. Fico claimed that it was a battle of nerves, as the two paragliders were theoretically released, but it took several more hours to procure all documents necessary for leaving Iran. Lajčák added that the situation was more complex than it seemed on December 12 when they arrived to the country.

The pair was handed over to Slovak officials on December 11, the Iranian Mehr newswire reported, as quoted by TASR, without giving more details on the release. Beginning in September, Iran freed six of the eight Slovak travellers, but two others, Pavol Šeliga and Marek Stolarčík, were to stay in the country until the suspicions surrounding them were fully investigated, TASR wrote.

The eight Slovaks were detained in mid-May for what Iranian authorities called “illegal activities, such as taking photos of prohibited places” in the Isfahan province, where several key nuclear facilities are located, including at least one plant used for enriching uranium. They are members of Paragliding Expedition Slovakia, a group that has organised several expeditions abroad in recent years, and which made documentary films that they later presented at film festivals. The group claims to have travelled to Iran as tourists in early May.

Iranian authorities confirmed that eight Slovak paragliders had been detained on June 30, saying they were “behaving inappropriately and had unconventional devices with them”, as reported by TASR. One of the six released paragliders said that they were allegedly detained for having dual-band transmitters.

This case became one of the crucial issues of the talks in August between Slovak Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on the occasion of the latter’s appointment, and also in September during their meeting in New York.

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