Hikers captured, arrested and held for over two years in Iran

Two U.S. hikers were released on $500,000 bail for each today after being caught crossing from Iraq into Iran on a hiking trip. The two hikers were sentenced to 8 years in prison for espionage and illegal entry into Iran. Josh Fattal (Fattal) and Shane Bauer (Bauer) will be released from Tehran’s Evin prison according to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, after their families come up with the money. Fattal and Baue have been in Tehran’s Evin prison for more than two years.

The two men apparently strayed across an unmarked border and were unaware they had crossed into Iran. Iranian authorities arrested them, claiming they were spies and had entered the country illegally.

The United States is working through a Swiss representative to find out more information and secure Fattal and Baue’s release because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran. There has been a call by Ahmadinejad for the U.S. to release Iranians being held hostage and for American politicians and leaders to be less hostile against Iran.

It is unclear as to the real reason Fattal and Baue crossed into Iran, was it really a mistake made while hiking or were Fattal and Baue working for the U.S. Government? The Tehran Prosecutor’s office claims to have compelling evidence that the hikers were cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies. Both Fattal and Baue were convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, 5 for espionage and 3 for illegal entry. The attorney representing the two has appealed the sentence.

Ahmadinejad mentions that he is working to get these men released. Is he trying to sound like a humanitarian? Does asking for $500,000 each for bail sound like a humanitarian gesture? If the hikers were really spies for the U.S. and it was true that there was “compelling evidence” against them wouldn’t Ahmadinejad be more hostile towards the U.S. Government?

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/09/13/iran.hikers.release/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

7 comments

  1. I find it difficult to view Ahmadinejad acting as a humanitarian in requesting from the United States $500,000 for each imprisoned hiker. If anything, asking for a large amount of money in exchange for the release of a prisoner brings to mind a ransom rather than a humanitarian gesture. Ahmadinejad’s announcement of releasing the hikers could also be viewed as an attempt to expand presidential authority within the Iranian government and to demonstrate to the Iranian people and the international community that he is a strong leader. Within the Iranian political system, Ahmadinejad’s power is extremely limited since The Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) controls almost every aspect of Iranian society, including the courts. As a result, the purpose behind Ahmadinejad’s announcement could be to establish himself as a president that will stand up to conservatives and The Supreme Leader. However, the conservatives are not backing down. About 24 hours after Ahmadinejad’s declaration, the Iranian courts gave him a reality check by stating that Ahamdinejad did not have the authority to free the prisoners. It seems that it will take more than a “humanitarian gesture” for Ahmadinejad to expand his executive power.

  2. The first question that came to my mind was, “how compelling is compelling?” It would very interesting to see where exactly these men were confronted and by whom.

    These arrests, and the conditions of their releases, seem to be disjointed from one another, as each would potentially serve a different purpose to Iran. Ahmadinejad seems to have at least three motives influencing the possible releases of Fattal and Baue to the United States – money, the potential release of Iranians being held hostage, and improvement of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States.

    Yet, like Lindsay suggests, if these two men were believed to be spies by the Iranian government, and there is “compelling evidence” to support this conclusion, it would follow that Iran would in fact be more hostile towards the United States, as this is a sign that favorable, friendly diplomacy between the nations is not approaching any time soon. Instead, this issue appears, on its face, to be a channel for Iran to barter with the United States. While this may mean the return of two U.S. citizens, it could also cut deeper into the wound of our inimical, non-existent relations with Iran.

  3. Stories like this are always very scary. Conditions are bad enough in United States prisons, but try being jailed in a foreign country (Iran in particular) where anti-American sentiment is rampant and prison conditions are in itself a continuous human rights violation.

  4. I’m sure this question crossed many people’s minds when they first heard the story of the captured hikers; why were they hiking in that area of the world in the first place? Say what you will about me, but I for one have no desire to go hiking in the Kurdish hills of Iraq given the state of that area of the world.

    Nevertheless, I do hope that these hikers are released as soon as possible. On a cursory glance, I find it very hard to believe that these hikers were American spies. Even though they may have made some questionable decisions, I cannot imagine that these hikers deserve the two years they already served in an Iranian jail, let alone any more time.

  5. Interestingly there was a power struggle last week between Iran’s Judiciary and Iran’s President. After the Presidents speech that the above article mentions the Iranian Judiciary stated they would not be releasing the American Hikers and were not taking the Presidents promises into consideration. It seems as though they lost the fight. The American Hikers were conveniently released before Iran’s President’s Speech today at the U.N. in New York. His speech is scheduled to start at noon today. I am interested to hear a recap of what he had to say.

  6. I think this situation has to be considered in the general context of foreigners crossing the border into a particular country. If foreign hikers had ended up in America, unbeknownst to them, would we have questioned their presence and possibly locked them up? Following the events of September 11th I think the entire world has reconsidered their homeland security policies and has been more cautious of who they let into their country. An eight-year prison sentence is a very heavy sentence when there seems to be no evidence to back up the idea that these two hikers were spies. I am not sure that we have all of the information necessary to fairly judge why the sentence was what it was, but I think it is very important to consider what America would have done in this same situation if two Iranian citizens had been caught in a similar position.

  7. What about the fact that Iran released the female prisoner? If the three of them entered the country as spies, as Iran claims, is it likely that they would release her as easily as they did? Does this make it sound more like they were being held as a bargaining tool and since she had medical needs she was too much of a liability? If we were to capture three spies, and one got sick, would we just let that one go? I am not clear on the full reasons why she was let go after a year but it seems strange. What do you think?

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