One day prior to their arrest, Hellwig and Koch entered Iran on a tourist visa while planning to investigate on the case of Sakineh Ashtiani (who had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery) without the permission of Iranian authorities, and in violation of Iranian media law. According to a spokesman of the judiciary, authorities were warned by a person close to Ashtiani"s family, who became suspicious about the foreigners" visit. Charges by Iranian judiciary
Hellwig and Koch were suspected of having planned the operation with Mina Ahadi who was engaged via a regular telephone connection in the interview and served as a translator for the two Germans.
In an interview with Iranian state television, Hellwig and Koch admitted that they were stinged by Mina Ahadi to travel to Iran.
Ahadi was convicted for terrorism in Iran for her past involvement with the Kurdish Komalah forces. Cooperation with Ahadi turned out to be considered an act against the national security of Iran by the judiciary.
The two were sentenced to 20 months in prison on charges on “acting against national security” by "committing unspecified acts". Release
The two journalists were freed February 20, 2011 and their sentences commuted to fines of $50,000 each. after a visit by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to Tehran for a rare meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Westerwelle returned to Germany with the pair on his government plane.
A year after being released Hellwig told readers of his tabloid that he "was regularly beaten and constantly interrogated" during the first 10 “brutal” days in captivity until a German diplomat intervened on their behalf. Iranian interrogators sometimes "claimed that I was a spy, then allegedly a terrorist,” Hellwig is quoted as saying. According to Hellwig, he and Koch could hear torture victims throughout the day from their prison cell.
“The cries were horrible.”
Hellwig plans to write a book of his experience.