Amnesty International has called on Iranian authorities to release two US citizens apparently held for political reasons for nearly two years, as their flawed trial is set to resume on 11 May.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested while they were hiking in the Iraq-Iran border area on 31 July 2009. The exact circumstances of their arrest remain unclear, but the Iranian authorities have charged them with espionage and illegal entry.
A third US citizen arrested with the men, Sarah Shourd, was released in September 2010 on US$500,000 bail.
“The facts surrounding the hikers’ arrest are disputed, and Iran’s justice system has systematically failed to observe international fair trial standards in this case, including giving the men adequate contact with their lawyer, families or consular assistance,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“Last year we called on Iran to release the men and to let them leave country if they were not to be charged with recognizably criminal offences and given a fair trial. This has patently not happened and indicates that Iran has a political motive for holding them and has no intention of granting them a fair trial.”
Eyewitness testimony reported by US news magazine The Nation placed the three hikers inside Iraq, not Iran, at the time of their arrest by Iranian troops. The Iranian authorities maintain that they were arrested in Iranian territory.
Amnesty International takes the position that illegal entry into a country should not be subject to a penalty of imprisonment.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been held at Tehran’s Evin Prison since their arrest, and have only been granted one brief encounter with family, when their mothers visited Iran in May 2010. They have been denied adequate access to their lawyer and only had few meetings with Swiss embassy officials, who represent US interests in Iran.
Shane Bauer’s family has said he has health problems that require regular monitoring.
Iranian officials have alleged that the three planned to carry out "acts of espionage" in Iran, claims which have been denied by their families and the US government. They have ignored repeated appeals by international actors to free the men. Amnesty International most recently outlined its concerns and called for the men’s release in a letter to the Iranian authorities on 9 May.
In media interviews, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hinted that the hikers were being held as a bargaining chip to be used in Iran’s dealings with the United States.
“Holding foreign nationals with the sole purpose of seeking concessions amounts to hostage taking, and if that is the case here, Iran must immediately and unconditionally set these men free and allow them to leave the country,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.