I hope Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad checked his fax machine this morning because he received an important letter urging the release of three American hikers held now for five months without charge. I joined 79 signatories from a dozen countries in signing the appeal because I am gravely concerned that the hikers are being used as political pawns in a frightening game of nuclear diplomacy.
Let’s be clear. This is not a traditional press freedom case. The hikers, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, were detained after they reportedly strayed across the Iranian border while on a recreational hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan. They have been held now for five months without access to legal counsel or their families. Their only contact with the outside world has been through the Swiss Embassy, which represents the U.S. in Iran.
The prolonged detention and lack of due process are clearly unjust, but even more alarming are recent reports out of Iran indicating that the hikers may face charges of espionage. In this context it is important for CPJ to affirm that Bauer is a respected journalist who covered the Middle East from his base in Damascus, Syria. Iran has not offered a shred of evidence to support any espionage claim. If, as it appears, the hikers wandered across the border inadvertently, we hope that President Ahmadinejad will carry through on his pledge and urge that the Iranian judiciary act with compassion. Our hope is that the hikers will soon be released and reunited with their families.
Read a pdf of the letter here.