US hikers held in Iraq in 'poor health,' Swiss diplomats say

23rd April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Two out of three US hikers arrested in July after allegedly straying into Iran from neighboring Iraq are in poor health and all are pondering a hunger strike, their families said Friday.

The families of Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, issued a statement after Swiss diplomats were allowed to visit the detainees Thursday for the first time in nearly five months.

"We thank the Iranian authorities for allowing Shane, Sarah and Josh to receive another consular visit at long last but we are alarmed to learn of their physical and emotional state of health and fear their well-being will suffer even more unless their case is resolved without delay," the families said.

"Shane has a stomach ailment and Sarah is suffering from a serious health issue that requires specialist care as well as grappling with depression," they said.

"We understand that they have spoken about starting a hunger strike because they are in such despair at the total lack of movement in their case."

The trio was detained last July 31 after straying across the border during a hiking trip in Iraq's Kurdistan region and are being held in Tehran's Evin prison.

The Swiss ambassador was granted the consular visit, his third to the prisoners, after repeated requests, the State Department noted.

"While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release and request the families are granted visas to Iran to visit their children soon," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

He insisted the tree Americas were "simply innocent tourists" when they were detained almost nine months ago and since held without charge.

"There is no justification for their ongoing detention. And they should be released without further delay," Crowley said.

While Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution and animosity has grown since the Islamic republic's defiant pursuit of a controversial nuclear program, the families said "it is wrong to make innocent citizens pay the price."

The two men are held together and Shourd remains alone in a separate cell.

"This treatment is completely unjustified and we urgently call on the Iranian authorities to do the humane thing and let them come home," their relatives said.

"We are convinced that if Iran had any evidence against Shane, Sarah and Josh, it would already have tried them in a public court of law and let them answer any allegations. We know that Shane, Sarah and Josh have nothing to hide."

Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi accused the hikers earlier this month of cooperating with "intelligence services," without elaborating. He said Iran had "compelling evidence" of the ties.

In mid-December, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran will put the Americans on trial after they "illegally" entered the country.

© 2010 AFP

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