264 Days and Counting

April 22, 2010

Nine months. Two-hundred-sixty-four days. However you total it up, it is too long for three Americans to be cruelly, and unfairly, held in an Iranian jail.

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd should have been released long ago. It now seems that Iran’s mullah-led government has made them pawns in the political chess game with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program. That’s unconscionable.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising given the way Tehran’s hard-liners have brutally repressed its own citizens, especially since last June’s fraudulent presidential election led to angry protests across the country.

The Americans were hiking in the Kurdish region of Iraq when they crossed into Iran accidentally, according to family members. Detained since late July, they were sent to the infamous Evin prison, where political prisoners are routinely incarcerated and often abused.

Since then, the Iranians have permitted only two consular visits — in September and October — by Swiss diplomats representing American interests in Tehran. The hikers had to wait seven agonizing months, until early March, for one phone call apiece to their families back home.

Iranian officials should comply with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and allow regular access to the three Americans. They should stop manipulating the families and grant visas so the mothers can visit their children. The mothers filed applications in January that are still not approved.

The fact that Iranian officials cannot agree on charges against the hikers, or back them up, is a sure sign that something fishy is going on. After the Americans were held for three months, some Iranian officials accused them of spying — but never offered proof. The hikers’ Iranian lawyer, Massoud Shafie, told the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran recently that he has seen their file and there is no evidence of espionage. He said both the file and the judge handling the case say that the only charge is “illegal border crossing.” Under Iranian law, that calls for a cash penalty — not jail time.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran claims that his country’s judiciary is independent. We’re deeply skeptical. But let’s test the proposition. The court should levy the cash penalty and let the hikers go home. They have suffered too much already.

~ by fredfelleman on April 22, 2010.

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