Amnesty strongly condems jail sentence for US hikers

22 Aug 2011

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The conviction of two Americans held in Iran for spying and illegally crossing the border has been condemned by a human rights group.

Amnesty International said the eight-year jail sentences for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, made a “mockery of justice” and were designed to be used as “a bargaining chip to allow Iran to obtain unspecified concessions from the US government”.

A court sentenced the two men to three years each for illegally entering Iran and further five years each for espionage, it emerged over the weekend.

“The conduct of this trial has quite simply made a mockery of justice. There does not appear to be any substance to the allegations that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are spies,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East director. “The Iranian authorities should take act now and release these two men now without further delay.”

Iranian security forces arrested Bauer and Fattal, along with their friend Sarah Shourd, in July 2009, after they walked across an unmarked border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Their conviction came as a surprise to their families, who were expecting them to be released. Shourd, 33, who got engaged to Bauer while in jail, was released last September on health grounds and after paying $500,000 (£324,000) bail.

Supporters of the three Americans say they unwittingly crossed the unmarked border while hiking but Iran accused them of spying. It is unclear whether the three were captured in Iranian territory or whether Iranian forces went into Iraq to arrest them.

After their trials ended last month behind closed doors, officials from Iran’s foreign ministry signalled that the two would be freed on the eve of Ramadan.

The contrast between the trial’s outcome and official promises highlights a growing rift between the judiciary, whose head is appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government. Some analysts believe Shourd was released after an intervention from the president’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

The long sentences given to Bauer and Fattal can also be interpreted as a tit-for-tat response to the US state department’s assessment, announced last week, that Iran remained the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.

In reaction to the handling of the trial, some conservative websites sympathetic to the regime in Tehran have mentioned the case of Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan, an Iranian woman in jail in the US on charges of attempting to smuggle night-vision goggles to Iran, which suggests that Iranian officials might be pursuing her release in exchange for those of the Americans.

According to Iran’s IRNA state news, the intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, said on Sunday that Bauer and Fattal “entered the country with prior planning of spying”.

The lawyer for the two men, Masoud Shafiee, told an Iranian radio station that spying charges against his clients were “baseless” and that he would lodge appeals against the sentences.

source: The Guardian

Tehran Review
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