Behind all the news coverage of the protests in Iran last summer, you may recall an unsettling story about a group of three Americans hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan who were arrested by Iranian police on July 31, 2009 for having accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iranian territory. Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd are all graduates of UC Berkeley who, according to their families, crossed the border because they were lost. Nine months later, they remain in Evin prison, detained indefinitely on vague allegations of espionage.
As of today, according to a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Iranian officials have not been able to gather enough evidence to bring them to court, let alone agree on charges against them. The Iranian government has allowed only three consular visits from Swiss diplomats, and has given the hikers one opportunity to speak with their families over the phone. Despite repeated pleas, their mothers still do not have Iranian visas to visit their children. And time may be running out. Recent reports on the hikers’ conditions have shown rapid mental and physical deterioration; they are also allegedly planning a hunger strike.
The three hikers have received disproportionate punishment for their inadvertent actions. According to the hikers’ Iranian lawyer, Massoud Shafie, who has not been allowed to visit his clients, illegal border crossing carries the punishment of monetary fines, not imprisonment. The Iranian government’s denial of basic due process rights and alleged physical and psychological maltreatment of the hikers cannot be justified by the broader political stalemate between Iran and the U.S.; it is unfortunate that these young Americans are being used as pawns in a conflict beyond their control.
At the same time, we note that Iran’s gross human rights violations highlight yet another reason for the United States to demonstrate its own adherence to universal human rights standards. Protecting human rights at home is not just an ideal; it is in our own best interest. Being a human rights leader in the world helps prevent Americans from being targeted in this way, and gives the United States the moral leverage to garner international support needed to bring them home.
Human Rights USA supports the families of Shane, Joshua and Sarah and strongly urges the Iranian government to respect their human rights.
To sign a petition to be delievered to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, or to write a letter, please visit freethehikers.org.
Prepared by HR USA Intern Alex Burchfield.