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'Iran, Please, Free The Hikers'


Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained for nearly six months

Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained for nearly six months

Three young American hikers were detained in Iran nearly six months ago when they crossed into the country from Iraq. They are being held on espionage charges, and the Iranian government has not heeded pleas for their release, including a call from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But two Belgians travelers who faced a similar ordeal have been luckier. Idesbald Van den Bosch and Vincent Boon Falleur were imprisoned alongside the Americans in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, but were released December 8.

Since then, the two Belgians have been circulating this plea for clemency for their fellow inmates:

We went to Iran as tourists interested in exploring the country's beautiful landscapes by bicycle. Our vacation took an unexpected turn when we were arrested and imprisoned on September 5 on suspicion of espionage. We spent three long months in Evin Prison. One of those months was in solitary confinement.

We are writing this statement because we had some contact in Evin Prison with the Americans who were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan: Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal. We are deeply concerned about their well-being. We were detained for half as long Shane, Sarah, and Josh will have spent in prison on January 31, 2010. We appeal to the Iranian authorities to act in a humanitarian fashion and not politicize their case. Our hearts go out to them and their families.

The psychological stresses of detention were very great, especially during interrogation and solitary confinement. The pressure during interrogation was psychological. In solitary confinement, we were in cells with no outside contact and a ceiling light on day and night. We could not make eye contact with some guards and other prisoners; no communication was possible with other prisoners or with our families. Everything was designed to make us feel very lonely.

We were freed without a trial and hope that the hikers will be freed as soon as possible. We do not know the current conditions of their detention since we left Evin Prison on December 8, 2009. At that point, they were still in solitary confinement.

From our own experience, we can only imagine that the psychological pressure put on the hikers to confess to crimes they are innocent of is extremely intense. Their feeling of loneliness must be extreme. We, like they, were tourists celebrating the freedom to explore beautiful landscapes, rich cultural traditions, and marvelous hospitality. Now more than ever, we appreciate that freedom and it should not be unnecessarily and arbitrarily denied to anyone.

Iran, please, free the hikers.

Idesbald Van den Bosch

Vincent Boon Falleur

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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