updated 12/26/2010 11:04:40 AM ET 2010-12-26T16:04:40

Relatives of two German journalists detained in Iran since October were not allowed to see their loved ones for Christmas despite traveling to Tehran in hopes of seeing them, an official in Berlin said Sunday.

The reporter's sister and the photographer's mother were not granted access "despite repeated promises by Iran," a spokesman for Germany's foreign ministry said.

The women had traveled to Iran Friday and were accompanied in Tehran by the German ambassador, the spokesman said. He declined to be named in line with government policy.

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The two journalists, who have not been identified by name, were reporting on a highly publicized stoning case for the mass-circulation tabloid Bild am Sonntag when they were arrested early October.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this month that the judiciary was considering a request that would allow the two Germans to temporarily reunite with their family for Christmas. But authorities in Tehran never officially confirmed that the relatives would be allowed to meet them.

"May our detained colleagues today embrace their relatives?" Bild am Sonntag said on its front page Sunday. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle seemed confident, telling the paper it was his expectation that the meeting would take place "during the Christmas holidays," which in Germany are considered to end on Sunday.

The two journalists had entered the country on tourist visas and were arrested in the western city of Tabriz while interviewing the son and lawyer of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

Iranian officials have said the two admitted to violating Iranian laws, which forbid those entering the country on tourist visas to work as journalists.

Bild am Sonntag long stayed silent on the case, hoping that "quiet diplomacy" thanks to robust German-Iranian relations would get the two freed quickly, but changed track mid-November after the journalists were shown on Iranian state television.

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The Iranian refusal to grant the encounter seems likely to strain the countries' relations further.

Separately, the sentence against Ashtiani has been put on hold and is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court.

The outcry over her case came as one of the latest thorns in the side of Iran's relationship with the international community, as the U.S., the European Union and international human rights groups have urged Iran to stay the execution.

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