Hikers on Trial

Three American hikers accused of espionage and illegally entering Iran plead not guilty on February 6. A charge of espionage can carry the death penalty in Iran. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were arrested in Iran on July 31, 2009, while hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan near a waterfall. None of the three intended to enter Iran.

They entered northern Iraq with visas from Turkey on July 28 and had planned to spend five days visiting the area. Their families contend non of the three have any affiliation with the United States government, that they are teachers and artists. Shafiee, the hikers’ lawyer, said that he will only be permitted to see his clients to prepare their defense for one or two hours before the proceedings. All three Americans have denied that they knowingly entered Iranian territory or that they were involved in espionage. Do you think the talks over Iran’s nuclear program will determine the fate of the hikers?


  1. Since Ahmadinejad has distanced himself from the case and appealed for the hikers release, I think it will be unlikely that a deal will be made. The US has also rejected the idea of a prisoner exchange. Therefore, it seems that it is left up to the judiciary, which has no qualms about convicting people on false or trumped up charges. Just look at Roxana Saberi who was lucky enough to survive a similar ordeal. I am not optimistic about the fate of the two hikers who remain in Iran.

  2. It seems pretty clear that the trial of these hikers has little to do with the law everything to do with politics. Iran is making a show of this trial for the purpose of bringing attention to Iranians being held in the United States. The Iranian President himself drew a link between this trial and that of Amir Hossein Ardebili, an Iranian national who was sentenced to 5 years in prison in the US after pleading guilty to plotting to ship sensitive US military techonology to Iran. The interesting development to watch will be to see at what point this trial turns into an outright negotiation for prisoner exchange, one that I would imagine the US would have a difficult time going alon with so publicly for fear of setting a bad precedent. Certainly, if the talks over Iran’s nuclear program become more contentious, Iran would become less likely to release the beleaguered hikers. The bigger political issue at the heart of this matter does appear to be about making a statement with regard to Iranian prisoners in the US.

  3. Unfortunately, it appears that the overarching political issues will trump the likelihood of a fair trial. Further, even if the judiciary is fair, the defense is likely to struggle given that the lawyer only has an hour or two before the trial to meet with his clients. The two hikers remaining in Iran appear to be in an impossible situation, for which the US is unlikely to engage in a prisoner exchange. We can only hope that justice ultimately prevails and the trial results in a successful outcome for the prisoners.

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