2009–11 detention of American hikers by Iran
On July 31, 2009, three Americans, Sarah Shourd (32), Shane Bauer (28) and Joshua Fattal (28), were taken into custody by Iranian border guards for allegedly crossing into Iran while hiking near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan.
At the time of their detention by Iranian troops, the three Americans were on vacation from their jobs in the region in a relatively stable, autonomous region of Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan. On the recommendations of locals, they hiked to see a popular local Iraqi tourist destination near the Iraq-Iran border, the Ahmed Awa waterfall.
Following the hikers' abduction near the Iraqi-Iranian border, a wide range of outside voices, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the human rights group Amnesty International, had called for the hikers' unconditional release.
Sarah Shourd was released 14 months later on "humanitarian grounds". Bauer and Fattal were convicted of "illegal entry" and "espionage" two years after their arrest and each sentenced to eight years in prison, but were released on September 21, 2011. Each of the detainees was released after payment of 5 billion rial (about US$465,000) bail was arranged by the Sultan of Oman.
Shane Bauer, who grew up both in Onamia, Minnesota and San Leandro, California, is a freelance photojournalist and journalist who has reported for Democracy Now!, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, using his fluency in Arabic. Bauer and Fattal were friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley.
Sarah Emily Shourd, who grew up in Los Angeles, worked in education and social justice in Damascus, Syria, where she provided educational opportunities to refugees from the war in Iraq and taught English. Shourd was Bauer's girlfriend at the time of the arrest, and the two became engaged to be married while imprisoned. They married on May 5, 2012, in Half Moon Bay, California.
Joshua "Josh" Fattal, who grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, an environmentalist and educator, had been from January to May 2009 a teaching fellow for the International Honors Program (IHP)'s "Health and Community" study abroad program. Prior to traveling with the IHP, Fattal lived and worked at Aprovecho in Oregon, USA, exploring and promoting sustainable living practices.
Shortly after the release of the hikers, it was revealed that Jacob Fattal, the father of Joshua Fattal, is an Israeli expatriate living in the United States and that two of his siblings live in Israel. To avoid revealing the fact that Josh's father is an Israeli citizen, Josh's mother spearheaded the campaign for his release and his father avoided the media. Fattal had been to Israel on a few family visits. The last time Fattal was in Israel is 2007 for two weeks for his cousin's wedding. Jacob Fattal likened his son's detention in Iran to the detention of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip from 2006 to October 18, 2011.
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous Region of Iraq, a federal entity recognized by Iraq. It has a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly consisting of a parliament known as the Kurdistan National Assembly with constitutionally recognised authority over the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah, as well as de facto authority over half of Kirkuk province and parts of Diyala and Ninawa provinces.
On July 31, 2009, Shourd, Bauer, and Fattal were detained by Iranian border guards for alleged espionage while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran claims the three crossed into its territory, but the three Americans deny this.
The three American detainees have stated they were simply hikers who did not realize that they were in Iran and that they actually have lengthy backgrounds as social justice and Palestine Solidarity Movement activists. They had been living and active in the Middle East, and were on holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq free from the sectarian struggle that dominates much of Iraq. They had been advised of the suitability of the region for a holiday by friends who had been there and through Internet research; and were recommended the Ahmed Awa waterfall, a popular Kurdish tourist destination, by a number of local people whilst they were in Sulaymaniyah. After visiting the waterfall, they continued walking within what they believed to be Iraqi Kurdistan, up to and including the time they were detained by Iranian border guards.
The exact circumstances of their detention are unknown. They were being held in Evin Prison, with Shourd having been in solitary confinement and allowed out for two 30-minute periods each day to spend time with the other two.
The three detainees were not allowed to communicate with their families until May 2010. Swiss consular officials were able to visit them on September 29 and October 29, 2009 and confirmed they did not appear to have been physically mistreated (Switerzland represents U.S. interests in Iran because the United States has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran). However, upon the release of Fattal and Bauer on September 25, 2011, Shourd stated that "Bauer was beaten and Fattal forced down a flight of stairs".
Mothers of the three applied for visas in January 2010 to visit their sons and daughter and left for Iran in May 2010 after the government granted the visas. The three were united with their mothers for two days in May 2010 while remaining in detention.
Since their incarceration, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, who were already in a relationship when they were detained, became engaged and married subsequently.
Release of Sarah Shourd
On September 14, 2010, after more than a year in prison, Sarah Shourd was released on 5 billion rial (about US$465,000) bail. Iran's judiciary also announced that the pre-trial detention of Bauer and Fattal would be extended for two more months, at that time. Shourd remained a defendant but was not required by Iran to return for trial along with Bauer and Fattal in 2011.
Iran officials stated she was released on humanitarian grounds due to her declining health. Shourd's bail did not require that she remain in Iran, but her case would still go to trial along with Bauer and Fattal. Shourd's mother has said she had been denied treatment for serious health problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells. In May 2011, Shourd announced that she would not return to Iran for trial, citing acute ill-health.
On August 20, 2011, Bauer and Fattal were convicted of "illegal entry" and "espionage" and sentenced to a total of eight years in prison, each.
"According to an informed source with the judiciary, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two detained American citizens, have been each sentenced to three years in prison for illegal entry to the Islamic Republic of Iran," the Iran's state television website reported. It also stated that the two have separately been "sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage for the American intelligence agency."
Iranian judicial process
Ahmadinejad also promised that he would ask the judiciary to treat the case with maximum lenience and expeditiously back in September but despite many public statements that a judicial proceeding is imminent there has been no hearing or movement on their case for nearly eight months. The detainees have been consistently denied access to their lawyer and Swiss officials have been stonewalled since late October. On February 15, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said it was "quite possible" the Americans had strayed into Iran by mistake. Mohammad Larijani is also a brother of Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Chief Justice of Iran, and Ali Ardashir Larijani, Chairman of Parliament of Iran.
At the beginning of August 2010, the Iranian government reiterated its belief that the trio should stand trial for illegal entry, and announced it was considering other charges such as "intentionally acting against Iranian security". On July 31, 2011, the two had their final hearing of the trial and the verdict is expected on August 7.
On August 20, 2011 the two hikers were sentenced to 3 years for illegal entry and 5 years for espionage, a total of 8 years.
Calls for release
Kenan Thompson, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Noam Chomsky, Tom Morello, Alyssa Milano, Ashton Kutcher, Pres. Barack Obama, rapper Big Sean, along with many other celebrities and governments, called for the release of the detainees on grounds of inhumane treatment and lack of evidence.
On September 13 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News that Bauer and Fattal would be released “in a couple of days” in a “humanitarian gesture.” Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly the next week. However the release was delayed as part of "what analysts called a power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the conservative establishment he has angered," and soon after the announcement, Iran’s judiciary contradicted the president and stated it had exclusive authority to order their release. (The judiciary answers to the country’s supreme leader.) Bauer and Fattal were released at dawn September 21 and taken by a diplomatic convoy to a plane that took them to Oman.
Shafiei said the bail of 5 billion rial (about US$465,000) for each of the men was posted. who were released into the custody of either Swiss diplomats or an Omani delegation. Omani officials, who maintain good relations with both Iran and the U.S., reportedly played a key role in negotiations with Iran and may have paid the almost $1 million bail.
The two men were released from prison and flown back to the United States via Oman on September 21, 2011, following a 10 billion rial (about US$930,000) bail-for-freedom deal posted by Oman.
Once Bauer and Fattal were back on American soil, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Joshua Fattal's Iraqi-born Jewish father, Jacob, had emigrated to Israel as a child and later came to the United States, where he married Fattal's mother, Laura. In an effort not to draw attention to their ties with Israel after Josh's arrest, the family decided that rather than having his father involved in public efforts for Josh's release, the task would go to Josh's brother, Alex, a doctoral student at Harvard University, and to Josh's mother, Laura, who was born in the United States.
Ten days after their release, Philo Dibble, who helped petition for their release, died at age 60.
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- Free the Hikers
- Shane Bauer
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- PEN 2013 Event: Literature: Lock and Key with Shane Bauer and Laura Secor