Amnesty urges Iran to free US hikers held for one year

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Amnesty International on Friday called on Iranian authorities to release three young US nationals who have been detained without charge or trial for the past 12 months.

Iranian forces arrested Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, on July 31, 2009, near the Iraqi-Iranian border during what the trio say was a hiking holiday in the Kurdish mountains of northern Iraq.

"It appears clear that the Iranian authorities do not have substantial grounds to prosecute these three individuals," Malcolm Smart, Middle East director of the London-based Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"We fear that they may be held on account of their nationality," he said. "If so, they should be released immediately and allowed to leave Iran."

Amnesty said that otherwise the three young Americans should be "charged with recognisably criminal offences and be tried according to international standards for a fair trial."

Iranian officials have alleged that the three planned to carry out "acts of espionage" in the Islamic republic, prompting denials from the US government and their families.

"Statements by senior Iranian leaders... have suggested that the three may be being detained in order to put pressure on the US government and to extract diplomatic concessions," said Amnesty.

"If this were the case, then the continuing detention of these three individuals would amount to hostage-taking and be a very serious abuse of human rights," said Smart.

Amnesty referred to speculation that the Iranian authorities were holding the trio "as a bargaining chip."

"The detainees must be given immediate access to their lawyer, to renewed consular access and contact with their families, and to any medical attention or treatment that they need," said Smart.

© 2010 AFP

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