|Mohammadi-Ashtiani's sentence of death by stoning for alleged adultery has sparked international outrage [EPA]
Iran has charged two German journalists who entered the country as tourists with spying, a month after they were arrested while trying to interview the son of a woman condemned to death by stoning.
The announcement on Tuesday followed state-run television showing blurred footage of the two as yet unidentified men "confessing" that they had been "tricked" into travelling to Iran.
Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the justice department head of East Azerbaijan province in the northwest of the country where the arrests were made, accused both of them of espionage.
"These two Germans came to Iran claiming to be tourists. But the work of these two tourists in Iran and Tabriz and the way they reported in Tabriz show that they came for espionage," he was quoted by Fars news agency as saying.
"The evidence for espionage was in their hands when arrested and they were planning a smear campaign against the Islamic republic."
The case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the 43-year-old woman facing death by stoning for alleged adultery, has sparked protests around the world, with critics accusing the Iranian government of sexism and brutality.
The Iranian television report said the pair were arrested at the office of Mohammadi-Ashtiani's lawyer while trying to interview her son and after taking pictures of Tabriz prison, where the woman is held.
Speaking to Al Jazeera Ghanbar Naderi, an Iranian journalist, said the judge should be blamed because "stoning has been scrapped for decades in this country".
"The judge did not have any understanding about the judicial process or the Iranian culture and civilisation, or Islamic compassion, by giving such a harsh verdict to a woman who has been accused of killing her husband.
"I did not send them to Iran. I spoke to them about the risks and helped them make contacts. I do not think the journalists were mistreated physically ... But they were certainly under psychological pressure"
Mina Ahadi, Iranian human rights activist in exile in Germany
"It is a catch-22 situation. If they don't have proper papers to prove that they are in the country on a journalistic mission then definitely the natural reaction has to be that these two guys are spies, and this is exactly what the judiciary is doing."
Naderi said the two Germans could escape a death sentence if Iran shows compassion as it had in similar cases in the past.
The journalists arrested on October 10 reportedly pointed fingers at Mina Ahadi, an Iranian human rights activist living in exile in Germany, according to the Farsi voiceover of Monday's footage.
Ahadi, the founder of the Germany-based International Committees against Execution and Stoning, has launched a global campaign to halt the impending execution of Mohammadi-Ashtiani by stoning.
In an immediate response on Tuesday, Ahadi denied sending the two men to Iran.
"I did not send them to Iran. I spoke to them about the risks and helped them make contacts, " she told AFP in Germany.
"I do not think the journalists were mistreated physically ... But they were certainly under psychological pressure.
"They have been in prison for a month ... no contact with their family, no phone contact, only once have German diplomats visited these journalists. They are under pressure," Ahadi added.
The Germans, who entered the country on tourist visas, reportedly work for the Springer group in Germany. Foreign reporters need special press visas to be able to work in Iran.
Meanwhile the German Journalists' Association strongly rejected the spying charges against the two men and called for their immediate release.
"Coverage of human rights violations is not spying, but important information,'' Ulrike Kaiser, the association's deputy chairman, said in a statement on Tuesday.
She criticised Iran for airing the footage in which the two journalists appeared admitting their mistakes, and urged the German government to increase its efforts to get them released.
German officials in Berlin told the AFP news agency that they were "following the news but had no specific information" at the moment, adding that the detained men have had "intensive consular assistance".
Iran has also accused three US nationals detained on July 31, 2009, of espionage and illegal entry from across the border with neighbouring Iraq.
Two of the three – Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer – have been held in a Tehran jail for more than a year, and their female companion Sarah Shourd was released on bail last month.
All three, along with US authorities, have insisted they were not inside Iranian territory.