Iran Sets Ransom For Captive Hikers


After two years, an Iranian court has finally set bail for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two of the three hikers who wandered down The Wrong Damn Dirt Road and found themselves in Iran, where they were promptly accused of spying.  The third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released last year after the government of Oman negotiated bail for her.  The men were sentenced to eight years in prison.

The Associated Press reports on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s delivery of this bold adventure on the frontiers of humanitarianism:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an interview aired on NBC’s “Today” show, predicted the Americans could be freed “in a couple of days.” He described the bail offer as a “humanitarian gesture” and repeated complaints about attention for Iranians held in U.S. prisons.

Iran may have timed the court decision to coincide with Ahmadinejad’s visit later this month to New York for the general assembly of the United Nations. Last year, Shourd was released on bail just as Ahmadinejad was heading for the annual gathering of world leaders.

But Ahmadinejad was not likely involved in any decisions on the case. Iran’s judiciary is controlled by the country’s ruling clerics, who have been waging relentless pressure on Ahmadinejad and his allies as part of an internal power struggle.

Perhaps the clerics thought Ahmadinejad would lose face when they forced him to announce the release.  He does love taking hostages.  If the clerics manage to depose him, he should consider emigrating to America and joining the AFL-CIO.

The clerics might have also been uncomfortable sending Ahmadinejad to New York, to face a stiff grilling from American officials over the captive hikers.  They’ve gotten what they wanted by holding the men for two years – which, the Associated Press points out, is pretty much the standard shelf life for “spies” captured by the mullahs:

[The Bauer and Fattal] case most closely parallels that of freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American who convicted of spying before being released in May 2009. Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison, but an appeals court reduced that to a two-year suspended sentence and let her return to the U.S.

At the time, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said the court ordered the reduction as a gesture of “Islamic mercy” because Saberi had cooperated with authorities and expressed regret.

In May 2009, a French academic, Clotilde Reiss, also was freed after her 10-year sentence on espionage-related charges was commuted.

Last year, Iran freed an Iranian-American businessman, Reza Taghavi, was held for 29 months for alleged links to a bombing in the southern city of Shiraz, which killed 14 people. Taghavi denied any role in the attack.

What kind of treatment have Bauer and Fattal enjoyed during their stay in an Iranian prison?  The New York Times published a roundup of Iranian prison stories back in April 2009.  Here’s what jailed Iranian journalist Roozbeh Mirebrahimi had to say about his experience:

I spent 60 days in solitary confinement, where I was released only three times a day to use a bathroom for two to three minutes under camera surveillance. I was interrogated and tortured for days on end. Security agents blindfolded me and beat me repeatedly, pushing my head into the wall and onto a desk. They asked me questions about my relations with other journalists, particularly women, and with Westerners, and they constantly insulted my family.

Peace activist Ali Shakeri got plenty of solitary confinement, but he didn’t buy the torture upgrade when he made his reservations:

I was in prison for 140 days at Tehran’s Evin Prison — 114 of those days were spent in solitary confinement. During my time in prison, I was never physically tortured, but the emotional stress from solitary confinement, uncertainty about my fate and more than 50 interrogations were traumatizing. Twelve days before I was released, I was placed in a cell with another prisoner and allowed to watch television, including reruns of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and American movies like “Dead Man Walking” and “Guilty by Suspicion” — all dubbed in Persian.

Among the crimes that earned Shakeri 114 days in solitary were talking to Voice of America radio, and founding a peace-building group at the University of California.

But let’s not dwell on the past!  Once the Swiss embassy in Tehran irons out the details, the captive American hikers can go free, and Ahmadinejad will be free to deliver his important address to the parliament of mankind at Turtle Bay, without any annoying distractions.