In what is bound to be seen as another step in Iran’s increasingly deteriorating relations with the United States, Iran has charged 3 American hikers with espionage:
Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, reports three detained U.S. citizens have been charged with espionage.
Tehran’s general prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said Monday that investigations are continuing.
The three Americans were detained on July 31 for entering Iran illegally, after they apparently strayed across the border while on a hike in northern Iraq.
The announcement of the charges comes only days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met privately with the families of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, who were detained along the Iran-Iraq border at the end of July.
Tehran’s prosecutor general, Abbas Ja’afari Dolatabadi, announced the charges in an interview with the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
“The charge against the three U.S. citizens who were arrested on the Iran-Iraq border is espionage. Investigation of their cases is in progress,” he told IRNA, adding: “There will be more to say [about them] soon.”
Dolatabadi also said a Danish journalism student who was arrested last week in Iran was still under investigation.
“A journalist must have an official permit from authorized officials,” he told IRNA. “Therefore, the investigation will continue. We have also requested information from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance [which accredits foreign journalists] and after they respond to our inquiry we will make our decision.”
Family and friends of the three have said they were hiking in a mountainous border region in northern Iraq near a famous waterfall when they unintentionally strayed into Iran.
A friend of the trio, who would had travelled with them to Iraq for the hike and would have been with them at the time of their arrest but for a bout of illness, appealed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week to free them as soon as possible.
“Mr President, by continuing to deprive Shane, Sarah and Josh of their liberty, Iran is working against some of the very causes it supports,” Shon Meckfessel wrote.
“Each of these three has a long and public record of contesting injustice in the world and addressing some of the inequities between rich and poor which you have spoken about through their humanitarian work in their own country and overseas.”
Meckfessel wrote that Bauer is a fluent Arabic speaker who “has focused on injustices in the Arab world, in Iraq and Palestine in particular,” and said Shourd helped rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina, and helped poor people fight evictions from their homes in the United States.
He described Fattal as passionate about “justice, environmental sustainability and intercultural exchange.”
Iranian officials will likely care little about the letter. The three are essentially now international pawns: of iran lashing out at the United States, at Iranian officials for trying to use them for domestic consumption to raise the spectre of U.S. spies in Iran,or as bargaining chips to prod Washington in negotiations over issues between the two countries.
Clinton on Thursday repeated a call to the Iran government to release the American hikers on humanitarian grounds. “As a mother my heart went out to all of them. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to know that your child was in prison for now 100 days with very little contact between you and them,” she said.