Iran's Humanitarian Release of U.S. Hiker is Welcomed

Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Michael Bauer

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.


U.S. Hikers Still Imprisoned in Iran

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal have been held without charge for a year © APGraphicsBank

One year ago a trip turned into a nightmare for 3 young Americans when they were arrested by Iranian forces while hiking in the Iraq-Iran border area.  Since then, Shane Michael Bauer, Joshua Felix Fattal and Sarah Emily Shourd, have been held without charge or trial at Tehran’s notorious Elvin Prison in what some suspect is a political ploy.

Though Iranian authorities have alleged that the three planned to carry out “acts of espionage” in Iran, statements by senior Iranian leaders – including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in February 2010 – have suggested that the three may be being detained in order to put pressure on the U.S. government and to extract diplomatic concessions.   Just last month The Nation uncovered that the hikers were in fact seized in Iraq and taken forcibly into Iran.

The fact that Shane, Joshua and Sarah remain detained after a year without any charges is very serious. It is apparent that questioning ended several months ago and the failure to charge them has added to the speculation that Iranian authorities may be holding them as a bargaining chip in Iran-U.S. relations. If this is truly the case, then the continuing detention of these three individuals would amount to hostage-taking and be a very serious abuse of human rights.

The hikers have been detained without access to their family-appointed Iranian lawyer or the Swiss embassy officials who represent US consular interests in Iran. Additionally, they have been denied needed medical attention and contact with their families.

The mothers of the hikers recently met with Amnesty International in our UK office to talk about their long and frustrating campaign to bring the hikers home.  You can watch the video below.

Amnesty International is demanding that Iranian officials release these three U.S. nationals and allow them to leave Iran unless they are to face recognizable criminal charges and be tried promptly according to recognized international standards for fair trial.