(Wikipedia) - 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.
2009–2011 detention of Americans by Iran:
Iran was suspicious that the three were spies as they were citizens of a hostile country who had violated Iranian territory. The three Americans maintained they were on Iraqi territory at the time of the arrest and denied they were involved in espionage in any way or doing anything other than having a recreational hike. A wide range of outside voices, including the United Nations secretary general, 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 they were released on September 21, 2011. Each of the detainees was released after payment of 5 billion Rials (about $US 465,000) bail.
According to their later testimony, the three American detainees 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. 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.
In June 2010, an article in The Nation indicated that two villagers said the hikers were accosted by Iranian authorities while they were on the Iraqi side of the border. Although there are not always clear borderlines in the mountainous area, the Cold War style media outlets fed on the subject, naturally.
Their companion, Shon Meckfessel, was not detained, as he stayed behind at the Hotel Miwan in Sulaymaniyah because of a cold. He had intended to join them the following day.
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 (Switzerland 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, have become engaged.
On 14 September 2010, after more than a year in prison, Sarah Shourd was released on 5 billion Rial (about 465,000 US$) 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 November 9, 2009, it was announced they were to be charged for espionage by Iranian authorities. 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 (CIA)."
Their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiee, thought "the sentence was not consistent with the charges." Spying typically carries a death sentence in Iran.
President Ahmadinejad has stated his hope that the three would be able to prove their innocence of espionage, but stated they deserve at least some punishment for illegal entry into Iran.
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 Sadegh Larijani, Chief Justice of Iran, and Ali Ardeshir 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.
A team of United States Department of State officials, including diplomat Philo Dibble, coordinated with Omani and Swiss diplomats to secure the release of Bauer and Fattal.
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.
Shafiee said the bail of 5 billion Rial (about 465,000 US$) for each of the men was posted by Oman. They 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.
Once Bauer and Fattal were back on American soil, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Joshua Fattal's Iraqi-born Jewish father, Jacob, had immigrated 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.