American citizens Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, who have already served two years in prison in Iran on espionage charges, will now face eight more years in prison each. They had been led to believe that they would soon be released, but apparently that is not the case. The announcement seemed to send a very hard-line message from Iran's judiciary, which answers directly to the ruling clerics, weeks after the country's foreign minister suggested that the trial of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal could clear the way for their freedom.
COMMENT: Clearly, the two Americans have become political pawns, given increasing tensions between the US and Iran. Bauer and Fattal were detained in July 2009, along with American Sarah Shourd (who was permitted to return the US in September 2010 after posting a $500,000 bail, due to poor health). When arrested, the trio claimed they were hiking in a peaceful area of Northern Iraq. The Americans say they mistakenly crossed into Iran when they stepped off a dirt road while hiking near a waterfall in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Bauer and Fattal's plight closely resembles that of freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American who was convicted of spying before being released in May 2009. Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison, but an appeals court reduced that to a two-year suspended sentence and permitted her return to the U.S. In May 2009, a French academic, Clotilde Reiss, also was freed after her 10-year sentence on espionage-related charges was commuted. Last year, Iran freed an Iranian-American businessman, Reza Taghavi, was held for 29 months for alleged links to a bombing in the southern city of Shiraz, which killed 14 people. Taghavi denied any role in the attack.
In analyzing the detention and imprisonment of Bauer, Fattal and Shourd from a lessons-learned standpoint, I am often puzzled as to why naive foreign travelers tempt fate while abroad. The majority of travelers hopefully exercise some prudence in determining where they're going to travel to and hopefully, never have a problem. Yet, others take actions and make choices that most reasonable, cautious people would never make. I don't offer these thoughts to be unduly critical, but only to emphasize that bad choices can not only deprive oneself of precious freedom, but jeopardize positive bi-lateral relationships between governments.
As a matter of interest, retired FBI agent and security consultant, Bob Levinson, 63, who disappeared while inside Iran four years ago, is "being held somewhere in southwest Asia," according to a statement made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Please see http://www.HelpBobLevinson.com. Levinson reportedly disappeared from the Iranian island of Kish in 2007.