Potential Prisoner Swap with Iran

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Three American freelance journalists, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, are being held in Iran for illegally crossing the border and for allegedly being spies. They have been in detention since July 31, 2009 and on February 2nd, 2010 Iranian president Ahmadinejad proposed a prisoner exchange.

The three entered Iraq on July 28th, 2009 and travelled to an Iraqi tourist resort, Ahmad Awa, that is on the border with Iran. While they were hiking near Halabja, part of Iraqi Kurdistan, they crossed the border into Iran. The border between Kurdish Iraq and Iran is said to be unclear. (1)

They said they made “a simple and regrettable mistake” when they crossed the border, according to their friend Shon Meckfessel who spoke with Bauer that morning. They also did not know they were that near the border, stated Meckfessel. (2)

The Iranian government, however, accuses them of disregarding warnings from guards and originally held them for illegally crossing the border. (3)

In November 2009, three months after their detention, it was publicly announced by Tehran's prosecutor general, Abbas Ja'afari Dolatabadi, that they would be charged with espionage. "We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever," stated U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. (4)

Since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Swiss diplomats served as a mediator and met with the Americans to call for their release. The three were last seen by Swiss diplomats on October 29th, 2009. They seemed to be nervous and scared, but otherwise were in good physical and psychological health, a senior State Department official told CNN. (5)

They still have not been tried in court. Iran's foreign minister never stated when a trial would begin and never stated exactly what they would be charged with other than that their intentions were “suspicious.” In January, their families hired an Iranian attorney to rush the case because they feel that the alleged charges are “ludicrous.” (6)

On February 2nd, Ahmadinejad stated in an interview with state TV that there were negotiations about exchanging the hikers for 11 Iranians being held in the United States. "I had said I would help in releasing them, but the attitude of some of U.S. officials damages the job," said Ahmadinejad. "There are a large number of Iranians in prison in the U.S. They have abducted some of our citizens in other countries." (7)

The negotiations did not start and it is not guaranteed that the prisoner exchange will go through.

"There are no negotiations taking place between the United States and Iran. We believe they should unilaterally release our detained citizens," said Clinton after meeting with Bahrain's foreign minister. (8)

A reason against the swap, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, is that there is not an “equivalence between the hikers and Iranians that had left Iran.” (9)

The three Americans crossed an unspecified border while the Iranian citizens that are in the held in the U.S. “have been indicted and/or convicted of arms trafficking in violation of international law,” said Crowley. (10)

Going through with a prisoner swap would release three Americans, but the flipside of the coin is that it would also release 11 Iranians who are suspected of or have been found to play a role in assisting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Only three of the eleven have been tried. (11)

For those who want to press the release of the three Americans, with or without a prisoner swap, there is a petition they can sign. Freethehikers.org has more information about the Americans and the petition.

1 BBC News Online, “US concern as Iran holds Tourists.” 1 August 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8180081.stm
2 CNN Online, “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor.” 9 November 2009: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/11/09/iran.hikers/index.html
3 US concern as Iran holds Tourists.”
4 “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor”
5 “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor”
6 Karimi, Nasser. “Ahmadinejad proposes prisoner swap for US hikers.” Yahoo! News, 2 February 2010: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100202/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iran_us_hikers
7 Karimi
8 BBC News Online, “Hilary Clinton rejects US-Iran prisoner swap proposal.” 3 February 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8497363.stm
9 Karimi
10 “Hilary Clinton rejects US-Iran prisoner swap proposal”
11 Karimi


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