The mothers of three young Americans detained by Iran last year after allegedly straying over the border from Iraq are expected to head to Tehran today in the hope of meeting their children and securing their release.
The three -- Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal -- were detained last July during what families say was a hiking trip.
Iran has accused them of illegal entry and links to intelligence services, but they have not been publicly charged with any crime.
In the past 10 months, the mothers say their families have had contact with the three only once -- in the form of a phone call in March.
Now, days after Iran granted them visas, the mothers plan to fly to Tehran in the hope of being reunited with their children -- and bringing them back home.
"We've been assured that we're going to see our children. We are certain that that's going to happen," Nora Shourd, the mother of Sarah Shourd, tells Reuters. "That is the main focus of the visit. But you know, on top of that, we're going to...really plead for their release while we are there."
A lawyer for the families, Masoud Shafie'i, told Reuters the mothers would arrive in Tehran today or May 19 and that they would be allowed to visit their children later in the week.
The visit by Shourd, Laura Fattal, and Cindy Hickey -- the mother of Bauer -- is being arranged with Swiss government help because Washington and Tehran do not have diplomatic ties.
Swiss diplomats who saw the three last month said Sarah Shourd has a serious medical condition and Bauer is suffering from a stomach ailment.'Sufficient Punishment'
The detentions have been a further complication to relations between Tehran and Washington, which has denied the spying allegations and called for the trio's immediate release.
Cindy Hickey says their children should not be used as political pawns.
"We've been told by the Iranian authorities that they granted our visas under humanitarian conditions," Hickey says. "This shouldn't be tied up in politics. We feel very strongly about that."
In a statement, the mothers said they hoped Iran's leaders would agree to meet them so they could plead for their children's release.
"This nightmare has lasted too long," they said, adding that more than nine months in jail is "sufficient punishment" for any transgression.
But they also acknowledged the possibility they could return to the United States without Shane, Sarah, and Josh.
"That is more than any mother anywhere in the world should have to bear," they said. "And we would be absolutely devastated."compiled from agency reports