Amnesty International and other organizations have harshly—and rightly—criticized Iran’s egregious human rights violations. However it is truly a cause for celebration when the Iranian authorities decide to take the high road on human rights, and these actions must be recognized and welcomed. In fact we are doubly grateful that in the past couple of days the Iranian government has released on bail both American hiker Sarah Shourd as well as prominent human rights attorney Shiva Nazar Ahari. These humanitarian gestures were performed at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, to mark the Muslim holiday ‘Eid al Fitr, a time when acts of clemency and mercy are traditionally performed. Iranian Authorities have also cited Ms Shourd’s health problems as grounds for the decision to grant her release.
Sarah Shourd had been arrested along with her friends Shane Michael Bauer and Joshua Fattal while they were hiking in the Iraq-Iran border area on 31 July 2009 and they had been detained since then in Evin Prison in Tehran. Iranian officials have alleged that the three U.S. citizens planned to carry out espionage. Amnesty International recognizes that all nations have a right to secure their borders and to ensure that foreign nationals with hostile intent do not threaten their citizens or perform criminal acts in their territory. However, the three U.S. hikers were held without charge or trial for over one year and not one shred of evidence has ever been produced against them. At the time Amnesty International released its 30 July 2010 statement calling for their release if they were not to be charged with a recognizable criminal offense, one entire year had gone by—more than enough time for the Iranian government to present any evidence it may have held against them.
In calling for their release after one year of detention without charge or trial, Amnesty International was holding the Iranian authorities to the exact same standards that it holds other governments. Amnesty International has consistently and vigorously condemned the U.S. government for its detention without charge of “terror” suspects at Guantanamo Bay, as well as the Egyptian government for detaining suspects indefinitely on national security grounds, and the Israeli government for its unwarranted use of “administrative detention” to hold Palestinians for periods of up to several years without charge or trial.