AFP: East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, appealed Sunday to Iran to release two American hikers arrested on the Iraqi border in 2009 and accused of espionage.
by Stephen Coates
JAKARTA, May 1, 2011 (AFP) – East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, appealed Sunday to Iran to release two American hikers arrested on the Iraqi border in 2009 and accused of espionage.
The trial of Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal will resume on May 11, 18 months after they were detained for alleged spying and illegally entering the Islamic republic across a remote section of the border.
The three have pleaded not guilty to the spying charges and maintain they innocently strayed into Iran across the unmarked frontier.
Iran has dismissed repeated pleas from the United States for the release of Bauer and Fattal after it allowed Shourd to return home on bail of around $500,000 in September last year on humanitarian grounds.
“It is hard for any of us to appreciate the torment these individuals… and their families have suffered since that fateful day,” Ramos-Horta, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, told AFP in a statement.
“It is harder still to fathom what Iran expects to gain by continuing to hold the two men in the group captive, with almost no contact with their families, and by putting them on trial on May 11 on the unfounded charge of espionage.”
He said Iran had summoned Shourd, Bauer’s fiancee, back for the trial “even though a senior Iranian official, Mohammad Javad Larijani, has said publicly that she is incapable of spying”.
As a political exile, Ramos-Horta lobbied the world for an end to Indonesia’s brutal 1975-1999 military occupation of his tiny half-island state.
He has not previously been involved in the issue of the Iran detentions.
But he said he identified with the “idealistic young Americans” because they had a “history of involvement in causes in support of legitimate independence movements and the downtrodden”.
Iran knew the Americans were not spies and “appears to need a graceful way out of the corner it finds itself in”, the East Timorese president said.
“A humanitarian release for Mother’s Day on May 8, or a quick trial on May 11 that results in an acquittal or sentencing to time served for illegal entry offer Iran just such an opportunity,” he said.
Shourd, a teacher, writer and women’s rights activist, grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Damascus where she met Bauer, a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist.
Bauer was in Syria helping to organise anti-US demonstrations aimed at criticising the war in Iraq. Shourd and Bauer became engaged in prison in Iran.
Fattal, an environmentalist and teacher, had travelled to Damascus in 2009 where he met Shourd and Bauer.
Their case has aggravated the animosity between Iran and the United States, which along with other powers accuses the Shiite theocracy of illegally developing a nuclear weapons programme.