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American Hikers Released From Iranian Prison After Serving Two Years For Espionage

The three hikers were reunited in freedom following Fattal and Bauer’s release from Iranian prison. The three hikers were reunited in freedom following Fattal and Bauer’s release from Iranian prison.

American hikers Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal have just been released from an Iranian prison and are heading home after serving two years for espionage and illegal entry into Iran.

Last week it was rumored that the two men would be freed, and Iranian officials, starting with often-vilified President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were quick to substantiate these claims, saying that the two men would be released as soon as their dual $500,000 fines were paid and papers signed by key members of the Judiciary. Now it appears that these conditions have been met and the two men are headed home to join their families and their friend and fiancée Sara Shourd, who was arrested with them but released a year ago.

Joshua Fattal is a first-generation natural-born US citizen whose father is an Iraqi immigrant. In an attempt to re-connect with his roots, Fattal traveled with Bauer and Shourd as part of a multi-month tour of the Middle East, to the Kurdish region of Iraq, an area along the Iranian border known for scenic hikes, caves, and waterfalls.

Iranian police detained the hikers after they allegedly crossed the Iraq/Iran border, an offense that, due to their extreme secrecy, Iranian police do not take lightly. Though all three were charged with illegal entry into Iran and espionage, Shourd was actually released on bond in September of 2010 with the help of the gulf nation of Oman - the country now rumored to have paid the bail for all three - because of chronic health problems that were likely to affect her while in prison.

Iranian police detained the hikers after they allegedly crossed the Iraq/Iran border, an offense that, due to their extreme secrecy, Iranian police do not take lightly.

Her male companions, Fattal and now fiancée Bauer, who proposed to her while in jail, had been incarcerated ever since, and two months ago were convicted of the crimes. All three had proclaimed their innocence, arguing that they were merely hiking and lost track of the often unmarked border, not attempting to spy on the secretive nation.

Shourd had been on a media-driven campaign to garner popular support worldwide for their cause and to put pressure on the Iranian government to release the men, appearing on networks from ABC to CNN as well as international media outlets to appeal to diplomats for help. She had secured the support of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Tom Morello, as well as political figures like Desmond Tutu, Mohammed Ali, Noam Chomsky and President Barack Obama, who had all called for Fattal and Bauer's releases.

However, because the US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the decision was wholly reliant on the cooperation of the Iranian Government and the Judiciary, a committee of religious clerics who frequently clash with the government. This infighting added an extra layer of complexity to the situation.

This past week, things began to look more and more hopeful for the imprisoned men. Various sources from the Iranian government, including Ahmedinejad, had stated that the hikers' release was imminent and although there had been several postponements in the last few days, all signs pointed to a resolution being found this week. Up until today, the only alleged sticking point was one cleric's signature, needed for release but impossible to procure because he was on vacation through yesterday.

Critics question the timing of the decision, wondering whether the Iranian government is trying to extend an olive branch to the US as an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations, or whether it is an attempt to distract from Iran's continued development of nuclear technology. Ahmedinejad swears that Iran's nuclear advancement is only in the interest of creating reliable power sources for their growing population, but many in the international community worry that Iran is using energy independence as an excuse to develop nuclear weapons in secrecy without fear of retaliation. This especially concerns nations like the US and Israel, a country that Ahmedinejad has publicly stated "must be wiped off the map."

Ahmedinejad traveled to New York this week to speak in front of the United Nations, and indicated that his initial goal was to bring the two men with him in a grand show of diplomacy. This decision added fuel to the rumors that the hikers' release was orchestrated strictly has a public relations stunt.

Another possible motivation for Ahmedinejad could have been to win a personal power victory over the religious clerics of the Iranian Judiciary, a group with which Ahmedinejad has been consistently at-odds, and which had been staunchly opposed to releasing the hikers before their three-year sentence ended.

Whatever the motivation, most will agree that the release of Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal is a positive conclusion to what has been a very precarious situation. It seems clear that not only were the detained hikers not spies, but that in many ways these particular people are in agreement with their captors - the three are activists who protest American involvement in Middle-East wars, as well as fight for the creation of a free Palestinian state. Whether Iran has ulterior motives or not, today will be a great day for the Bauer and Fattal families, and is a long time coming.

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A new report from before the release of the US hikers held in prison in Iran.
Last modified on Thursday, 19 July 2012 13:03

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