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Hikers Update: Three Are Charged as Spies

New America Media, Mary Ambrose Posted: Nov 12, 2009

The three Americans who strayed across the Iranian border while on a hiking vacation, Shane M. Bauer, Joshua F. Fattal, and Sarah E. Shourd, have now been charged with espionage by the Iranian government. It came a day after vigils were held around the country Sunday night, remembering the three who have been held for more than 100 days.

Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said investigations were continuing, according to the AFP.

"The three Americans arrested near the border of Iran and Iraq are facing accusations of spying and the inquiry is continuing," he was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

Since the Persian word used by the chief prosecutor who discussed the case can mean either charged or accused in English, The New York Times points out that its unclear whether Iran had formally filed legal action against the hikers, or whether these accusations are for public consumption.

As he has in the past, Irans President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Irans judiciary would make the final decision on the case.

The U.S. government responded quickly. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was widely quoted as saying, We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever. She added that the administration urges the Iranian government to exercise compassion and release them so they can return home.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, warned Iran and was quoted by AP as saying, I hope that we dont use the lives of very young people for political purposes.

The only people allowed to visit the three in prison are Swiss diplomats. Being reminded that they are not forgotten would be helpful toward keeping their spirits up, according to Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It's possible that the Swiss ambassador could bring some of these letters to the hikers in prison -- which would be a huge consolation, said Simon. If not, the ambassador could merely mention to the three hikers that they have received many, many letters of support.

Messages to the hikers should be written on a postcard and mailed in an envelope to Free The Hikers, PO Box 15065, Duluth, MN 55815, USA.

Anyone interested in pushing for their release is encouraged to visit their families Web site www.freethehikers.org which provides templates for letters to various government officials.

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