Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Iran Apparently Frees American Hikers After Lengthy Delay

Two Americans that had been held by Iran since 2009 as spies after Iranian security captured them after claiming that they had entered Iran, have apparently been released:
The men, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, both 29, were seen by reporters for The Associated Press leaving Evin prison in a diplomatic convoy including Swiss and Omani officials. The cars headed in the direction of Tehran’s international airport.

There were strong indications that the men would be taken by plane to the Gulf nation of Oman. . Last week, Oman sent a plane to Iran for the purpose of fetching the men.

The release of the men followed days of uncertainty over their fate after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised last week that they would be freed as a humanitarian gesture “in a couple of days.” The announcement by Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared calibrated to garner favorable attention before the Iranian leader flew to New York to attend this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting.

But soon after his announcement, Iran’s judiciary denied that the men would be freed imminently, saying it had exclusive authority to order their release.
The pair was released on $500,000 bail, which sounds more like a ransom than a true bail. A third hiker, Sarah E. Shourd, was released after paying $500,000 in bail in 2010.

No evidence has ever been provided by Iran that the trio were spies, and for all intents and purposes, it appears that the trio had mistakenly crossed into Iran after an unknown uniformed security official waved them over to talk. The trio had been hiking in Iraq at the time.

This isn't the first time that the Iranians have arrested Americans for trumped up charges of espionage. The Alaei brothers were arrested by Iranian security on claims of espionage. The Alaeis were simply carrying out a public health mission of spreading the word about AIDS and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

The brothers were released earlier this year. One of the brothers was released after serving 2 of 3 years in prison, and the other was released in conjunction with pardons granted during Eid after serving 2 of 6 years. The Alaeis faced a secret one-day trial in which they were convicted and sentenced on trumped up charges:
Kamiar, 37, and Arash, 42, both physicians and pioneers in the treatment of HIV and AIDS in Iran, were arrested in June 2008. They were charged with plotting to overthrow the government after an unorthodox one-day secret army trial in December 2008 that human rights observers deemed baseless and politically motivated.

Kamiar was released last fall after serving more than two years of a three-year sentence. He led a global effort calling for his brother's release that included strong support from his UAlbany colleagues. His brother received a six-year sentence.

"This is wonderful news and cause for great celebration," said Carol Whittaker, assistant dean for global health and director of the Center for Global Health at UAlbany. "It's a terrific way for us to start the new school year."

Whittaker and others on the UAlbany faculty got to know the two brothers when Kamiar began his Ph.D. studies in the fall of 2007 and Arash stayed with him locally for several weeks. They gave a presentation at UAlbany about the clinics they ran and national strategic plan they developed for treating HIV and AIDS in Iran. Their "harm reduction" model managed to slow the spread of the disease in a Muslim country where drug users are shunned.

But their attendance at global AIDS conferences, where they presented statistics on thousands of AIDS patients in Iran, raised eyebrows among officials of the hardline regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The brothers received numerous honors for their pioneering work with AIDS patients, including a prestigious award from the Global Health Council that Kamiar accepted in Washington, D.C. in June. "I wish my brother could be here," he told the Times Union. "I don't feel I'm released until my brother gets released."

Arash was let go on Sunday along with more than 100 political prisoners from Tehran's Evin prison, a traditional pardon gesture timed to mark the end of the Ramadan religious holiday, Eid al-Fitr.

"The holiday was one factor, but there were many," Kamiar said. "All the doctors and scientists who joined the campaign to free my brother had an impact. I appreciate all they've done."

"We are thrilled to hear of the release of Arash Alaei," said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director at Physicians for Human Rights, a group that led the effort to get the brothers released. "PHR and the Campaign to Free the Alaeis have worked for years to see these two brothers freed and reunited. We are overjoyed that we are one huge step closer to seeing this dream become a reality."

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