Freed US hiker begs Iran to release her friends
Source: abc.net.au — A woman who was freed after more than a year in custody in Iran has given her first media conference since arriving back in the United States.
Sarah Shourd has made an emotional plea for the release of her two companions, who she says were arrested by Iranian police as they mistakenly entered the country while on a hiking trip through Iraqi Kurdistan.
The three hikers, including Ms Shourd, were charged with entering the country illegally and spying 14 months ago.
It was only after lengthy negotiations between US and Iranian authorities that Ms Shourd was recently freed, but her fiance Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Battal are still being held in Tehran.
“Shane and Josh do not deserve to be in prison one day longer than I was,” Ms Shourd said.
“We committed no crime and we are not spies. We in no way intended any harm to the Iranian government or its people and believe a huge misunderstanding led to our detention and prolonged imprisonment.”
She says the experience has left deep scars.
“Though my friends and I never intended or chose to go to Iran, the tragedy of our imprisonment has forever marked our destinies,” she said.
“I never in my worst nightmare imagined that I would be a prisoner. I never saw it coming and I never knew that my family would have to suffer like this.”
Ms Shourd’s release has brought hope to the families of the men still in Tehran.
Mr Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, says she holds strong hopes for his release.
“I was very excited for Sarah to be free, for our families and also Nora and Sarah, however the bittersweet truth is Shane and Josh aren’t home,” she said.
“We really want them home. They are innocent. It is the same case. They need to be returned.”
War of words
But the fate of Mr Bauer and Mr Battal is uncertain. They look to be in the middle of an escalating war of words between Washington and Tehran.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was interviewed on TV during a trip to New York for the UN General Assembly.
He said he was pleased about Ms Shourd’s release but it appears he expected a quid pro quo from the US government.
“Now you may be aware that eight Iranians are illegally being detained in the United States, so I believe that it would not be misplaced to ask that the US government should make a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested,” he said.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s arrival in the US coincides with the US strengthening its rhetoric towards Iran’s authoritarian regime.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton used Ms Shourd’s release to voice her concerns that the Iranian leadership is morphing into a military dictatorship.
“I’m concerned about what I see going on and I am, of course, grateful and appreciate that Sarah was released,” she said.
“[I] want to see not only her two compatriots, but other Americans who are held without cause released as well.
“We are concerned about [Iran's] nuclear program but what we also see happening is increasing power exercised by the military, by the Revolutionary Guard and by other militia and military entities.
“I know that is a concern of people inside Iraq as we read reports coming out of Iran and it is something that would be even more distressing for the Iranian people.”
While Ms Clinton stopped short of calling for an outright revolt, she did urge the Iranian people to stand up to their country’s religious and military rulers.
“I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran by responsible civil and religious leaders to take hold of the apparatus of the state,” she said.