Gerald F. Seib, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Tehran on Saturday, is the latest of more than a dozen foreign journalists who have been detained and accused of spying by Iran's revolutionary regime during the eight years of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's rule.
Most have been released relatively quickly. But Cynthia Dwyer, an American free-lance journalist who was arrested in May, 1980, was not released until February, 1981, and Roger Cooper, a British free-lance writer, has been imprisoned in Tehran since 1985.
Seib's arrest, however, marks the first time a staff correspondent for a foreign newspaper has been held after being specifically invited by the government to visit Iran.
The arrests frequently have been byproducts of the constant feuding among factions within the militant Muslim regime. Iran's Foreign Ministry and Information Ministry periodically have invited foreign reporters to visit Iran in hopes of receiving sympathetic coverage, but hard-line elements more often view correspondents as Western spies.
Reporters Were Invited
State Department officials said Monday that it is not yet clear whether this was part of the reason for Seib's arrest. The Journal correspondent was one of about 50 foreign reporters invited to Tehran two weeks ago to view Iran's progress in its war with Iraq. The invitations were issued by the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, a relative moderate in the Khomeini regime; Seib was reportedly arrested by agents of Mohammed Mohammedi-Reyshahri, the regime's minister of security and intelligence and a reputed hard-liner.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Saturday that "a spy of the Zionist regime (of Israel) who entered Iran with a false passport and disguised as a journalist has been identified and arrested." A news agency report from Tehran on Monday said Iranian intelligence officials charged that Seib, whom the Iranians believed to be Jewish, had been spying for Israel, Iraq and the United States.
White House and State Department spokesmen said they hope that the arrest was merely a matter of mistaken identity. Seib's father said that the reporter is a Roman Catholic.
Among other journalists who have been arrested in Iran, only Cooper is still being held. A former part-time correspondent for the Financial Times of London, he was working as a consultant for a U.S. oil engineering firm when he was arrested Dec. 7, 1985.
Arrested During Hostage Crisis
Dwyer, a free-lance reporter from Buffalo, N.Y., was arrested in Tehran during the period when Iranian militants had seized the U.S. Embassy there and held 52 Americans hostage. Dwyer, who was not representing any major news organization, was convicted of espionage and imprisoned for nine months before being released.
An Iranian citizen working for Time magazine was arrested in Tehran in November, 1980, threatened with execution and then freed after a week. The reporter, Raji Samghabadi, then made his way out of the country.
In July, 1980, Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested seven foreign journalists, including two Americans, and accused them of espionage but released them after interrogation. A week later, however, a militant faction publicly denounced the two American reporters as CIA spies and demanded their rearrest; the journalists, Doyle McManus of The Times and Jay Ross of the Washington Post, fled the country.
"The ministry cannot guarantee your safety," an official of the Foreign Ministry told McManus and Ross. "We cannot control the revolutionary committees. . . . We only learn about arrests of foreign journalists after they've done it."