OpinionIran in the World PressThe Iranian hostage crisis

The Iranian hostage crisis


Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: Thirty years ago, the national ordeal that was the Iranian hostage crisis lasted 444 days. With far less fanfare, today’s version—the ordeal of two young Americans jailed in Tehran’s Evin prison—has passed its 500-day mark.

The Wall Street Journal

Two American hikers have been held in prison for more than 500 days.


Thirty years ago, the national ordeal that was the Iranian hostage crisis lasted 444 days. With far less fanfare, today’s version—the ordeal of two young Americans jailed in Tehran’s Evin prison—has passed its 500-day mark.

On July 31, 2009, Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal—three friends from U.C. Berkeley—were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran claims the three knowingly and illegally crossed into Iran that day, and that they were U.S. spies. The hikers, not to mention President Obama, have flatly denied allegations of espionage. And the three have claimed that they were nabbed by Iranian guards who crossed over the Iraqi border to arrest them—claims corroborated by a classified American military field report released in the latest WikiLeaks dump.

Even the man who interrogated Ms. Shourd in prison doesn’t seem to believe that the three did anything wrong. During her second month in captivity, Ms. Shourd recalls her interrogator saying: “It may not really matter if you’re innocent or not, because this has become political.”

Ms. Shourd, 32, was released on September 14 on $500,000 bail after 410 days in solitary confinement. But Mr. Fattal and Mr. Bauer, both of whom marked their 28th birthday in the cell they share, remain behind bars.

The men have received two of the countless letters their families have sent since Ms. Shourd’s release. Their families have gotten none. And while the Fattals and the Bauers have sent a small library worth of books, only a few have made it to their sons. The selection of English reading material at Evin Prison is so small that the young men have taken to reading the M-N-O section of the Encyclopedia. (The other volumes are missing.) They’ve been able to call home twice in the 17 months they’ve been in prison—once in March, and once the Saturday after Thanksgiving for five minutes.

Their lawyer, Masoud Shafii, has never had a proper meeting with his young clients and has been told he’ll only be able to see them the day of the trial. We’re told he’s now receiving threatening phone calls.

Taking hostages and accusing them of espionage is a familiar Iranian game. The Iranian-American journalist Roxanna Saberi was arrested in January 2009 and charged with being a spy. In July of that year, 24-year-old Clotilde Reiss, a French woman who was teaching at Isfahan University, was also arrested on espionage charges. She was eventually let go in a de facto prisoner swap: France released Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand, whom the FBI suspected of having smuggled dual-use weapons technology for the mullahs. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadhinejad has made clear that he’s hoping to pull off the same trick twice.

It would be nice to think the regime would release the two as a Christmas gesture. Don’t count on it. Iran’s leaders are careful students of the uses of cruelty. When the three mothers of the hikers were finally granted visas to visit their imprisoned children in Tehran (after waiting five months), their seven-day trip was cut to 48 hours.

Messrs. Bauer and Fattal have a special claim on our attention as Americans. But the people who continue to suffer most are Iranians. This week, celebrated Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mahmoud Rasoulof were sentenced to six years in prison for the crime of making movies. They’ll join prisoners like human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and student leader Bahareh Hedayat, two women in poor health who continue to embark on hunger strikes.

Amid this season’s good cheer, spare a thought for the Americans and Iranians languishing underground.

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