What's behind Iran's espionage charge against US hikers
Iran announced Monday that three American hikers – Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal – arrested July 31 amid post-election tensions had been charged with espionage.
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The prosecutor said on Monday, according to the official IRNA news agency, that an “opinion [on their case] will be given in the not distant future.”Skip to next paragraph
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The Kurdish area of northern Iran is especially sensitive, due to a slow-burn conflict with anti-Iranian PJAK guerrillas based in Iraq, which frequently target Iranian police and security forces. Iran and many outside analysts charge that those Kurdish fighters – who work alongside Turkish PKK guerrillas – have received American support in their fight against Iran. Washington denies the claim.
The espionage charge comes just days after Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei marked the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by military students with a tough anti-US speech.
“The American government is a really arrogant power and the Iranian nation will not be deceived with its apparent reconciliatory behavior,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Roxana Saberi, also charged with espionage, was later freed
Iran is also holding academic Kian Tajbakhsh, a dual US-Iran citizen, who was arrested shortly after the violence began and charged along with 140 senior reformist figures and activists with national security offenses aimed at toppling the regime. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail last month for activity related to the post-election protests.
Earlier this year dual US-Iranian citizen Roxana Saberi was arrested in Tehran, charged with espionage, and sentenced to eight years in prison. The sentence was reversed on appeal, and she was released to her parents in May, after more than three months in prison.
Analysts at the time said her arrest was a deliberate attempt by hard-line faction “spoilers” to derail President Barack Obama’s attempts at dialogue with Tehran.
The arrest of the hikers “could also facilitate things,” suggested one close observer in Tehran on Monday. “If Ahmadinejad intervenes with a presidential decree, as he did with [Saberi], at least he can pose as somebody who is in favor of softening tensions.”