2009–11 detention of American hikers by Iran

On July 31, 2009, three Americans, Joshua Fattal (27), Sarah Shourd (32), and Shane Bauer (28) were taken into custody by Iranian border guards for crossing into Iran while hiking near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan.

At the time of their detention by Iranian troops, the three Americans were on vacation from their jobs in the region in a relatively stable, autonomous region of Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan. On the recommendations of locals, they hiked to see a popular local Iraqi tourist destination near the Iraq-Iran border, the Ahmed Awa waterfall.

Following the hikers' capture on the Iraqi-Iranian border, a wide range of outside voices, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the human rights group Amnesty International, had called for the hikers' unconditional release.

Iran subsequently claimed the three were spies but was never able to offer any evidence to support its contention. Fattal and Bauer were convicted of "illegal entry" and "espionage" two years after their arrest and each sentenced to eight years in prison, but were released on September 21, 2011. Each of the detainees was released after payment of 5 billion rial (about US$465,000) bail was arranged by the Sultan of Oman.


Joshua Fattal

Joshua "Josh" Fattal, who grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, is a freelance photojournalist and journalist who has reported for Democracy Now!, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, using his fluency in Arabic.

Sarah Shourd

Sarah Emily Shourd, who grew up in Los Angeles,

Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous Region of Iraq, a federal entity recognized by Iraq. It has a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly consisting of a parliament known as the Kurdistan National Assembly with constitutionally recognised authority over the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah, as well as de facto authority over half of Kirkuk province and parts of Diyala and Ninawa provinces.


On July 31, 2009, Fattal, Shourd, and Bauer were detained by Iranian border guards while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran claims the three crossed into its territory. They had been living and active in the Middle East, and were on holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq free from the sectarian struggle that dominates much of Iraq. They had been advised of the suitability of the region for a holiday by friends who had been there and through Internet research; and were recommended the Ahmed Awa waterfall, a popular Kurdish tourist destination, by a number of local people whilst they were in Sulaymaniyah.

In June 2010, an article in The Nation indicated that two villagers said the hikers were accosted by Iranian authorities while they were on the Iraqi side of the border.

Their companion, Shon Meckfessel, was not detained, as he stayed behind at the Hotel Miwan in Sulaymaniyah because of a cold. He had intended to join them the following day. In their memoir, Bauer reveals that he was not beaten but rather severely threatened.

Mothers of the three applied for visas in January 2010 to visit their sons and daughter and left for Iran in May 2010 after the government granted the visas. The three were united with their mothers for two days in May 2010 while remaining in detention.

Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, who were already in a relationship when they were detained, became engaged while incarcerated and married after their release.

Release of Sarah Shourd

On September 14, 2010, after more than a year in prison, Sarah Shourd was released on 5 billion rial Shourd remained a defendant but was not required by Iran to return for trial along with Fattal and Bauer in 2011. In May 2011, Shourd announced that she would not return to Iran for trial, citing acute ill-health. Her lump turned out to be non-cancerous, however it offered a way out of returning.


On July 31, 2011, Fattal and Bauer were tried by the Revolutionary Court of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On August 20, 2011, they were convicted of "illegal entry" and "espionage" and sentenced to a total of eight years in prison, each.

Iranian judicial process

President Ahmadinejad stated his hope that the three would be able to prove their innocence of espionage, but stated they deserve at least some punishment for illegal entry into Iran.

In September 2009, Ahmadinejad promised that he would ask the judiciary to treat the case with maximum lenience and expeditiously, but despite many public statements that a judicial proceeding was imminent there was no hearing or movement on their case for nearly eight months. On November 9, 2009, it was announced they would be charged for espionage by Iranian authorities. The detainees were consistently denied access to their lawyer and Swiss officials were stonewalled. On February 15, 2009, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said it was "quite possible" the Americans had strayed into Iran by mistake. Mohammad Larijani is also a brother of Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Chief Justice of Iran, and Ali Ardashir Larijani, Chairman of Parliament of Iran.

At the beginning of August 2010, the Iranian government reiterated its belief that the trio should stand trial for illegal entry, and announced it was considering other charges such as "intentionally acting against Iranian security". On July 31, 2011, the two had their final hearing of the trial. On August 20, 2011 the two hikers were sentenced to 3 years for illegal entry and 5 years for espionage, a total of 8 years.

Calls for release

Kenan Thompson, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Noam Chomsky, Tom Morello, Alyssa Milano, Ashton Kutcher, Pres. Barack Obama, rapper Big Sean, Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens), Sean Penn, along with many other celebrities and governments, called for the release of the detainees on grounds of inhumane treatment and lack of evidence.

Release of Fattal and Bauer

A team of United States Department of State officials, including diplomat Philo Dibble, coordinated with Omani and Swiss diplomats to secure the release of Fattal and Bauer.

On September 13, 2011 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News that Fattal and Bauer would be released "in a couple of days" in a "humanitarian gesture". Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly the next week. However the release was delayed as part of "what analysts called a power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the conservative establishment he has angered," and soon after the announcement, Iran’s judiciary contradicted the president and stated it had exclusive authority to order their release.

The two men were released from prison and flown back to the United States via Oman on September 21, 2011, following a 10 billion rial

Once Fattal and Bauer were back on American soil, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Joshua Fattal's Iraqi-born Jewish father, Jacob, had emigrated to Israel as a child and later came to the United States, where he married Fattal's mother, Laura. In an effort not to draw attention to their ties with Israel after Josh's arrest, the family decided that rather than having his father involved in public efforts for Josh's release, the task would go to Josh's brother, Alex, a doctoral student at Harvard University, and to Josh's mother, Laura, who was born in the United States.

Ten days after their release, Philo Dibble, who helped petition for their release, died from a heart attack at age 60.


External links

Category:2009 in Iran Category:2010 in Iran Category:2011 in Iran Category:American people imprisoned in Iran Category:Iran–United States relations Category:People convicted of espionage in Iran

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