An American woman who spent 14 months in an Iranian prison accused of spying has spoken to Channel 4 News about the plight of two men who are still being held in Tehran.
On 31 July, 2009, Sarah Shourd and fellow Americans Shane Bauer and John Fattal were hiking in the Iraqi-Iranian border region when they were seized by Iranian soldiers and taken to Evin prison in the Iranian capital. Ms Shourd was released on a $500,000 (£300,000) last September. Her companions were not, and are due to stand trial for espionage, but the case was postponed without explanation last month.
Ms Shourd told Channel 4 News that despite 17-day-long hunger strikes and international pressure for their release, she fears 29-year-old Mr Fattal and Mr Bauer’s incarceration was motivated by “animosity between the US and Iran”, and therefore will continue.
Ms Shourd, who had been living with her fiance Mr Bauer, 28, in Damascus, where she taught English to Iraqi students living in Syria, described the Americans’ living conditions as “dire”.
“They live together in a 10x4ft cell with no sunlight and rarely leave their cell – only 40 minutes a day – to go to an open air room, which is basically just a larger cell with bars on top,” she said, adding that in the past few months, they had been on hunger strike for 17 days.
“In 22 months they’ve had three short phone calls, to their families.”
Ms Shourd writes every day to her former cell mates, but is not confident that they receive the letters. She also fears that their legal status lacks “any transparency”.
She said: “We were denied legal counsel from the beginning. The day that I was released, just after 14 months, is the day that we were all officially indicted. Up until that point our investigators told us ‘of course you’re not being charged with espionage’. After two months’ investigation my interrogator came in and said ‘Sarah, I’m very sorry, but even though I know you’re innocent, this case has become political and I don’t know what’s going to happen to you’, so he was very frank to me about that.”
There is “very little diplomatic transparency”, she added.
“Iran never says why it’s holding Shane and Joshua, why they held me for so long. They’ve never given any evidence and of course the allegations are completely baseless, so the obvious conclusion that we came to very early on was that it had everything to do with animosity between the US and Iran.”
Two weeks ago, boxing legend Muhammad Ali joined a prominent group of US Muslims in appealing for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.
Speaking on his behalf, Mr Ali’s wife, Lonnie, said the two friends only “wanted to experience the world, they wanted to experience other cultures, they wanted to experience other people.” Mr Ali wrote a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in February, asking that “mercy” be shown to the two men.
For more information on the hikers' fight for freedom, visit www.freethehikers.org.