U.S. renews call for Iran to free jailed Americans

By Associated Press
Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran's Evin prison Thursday.

"While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release," Crowley said. "We are aware of the families' concerns about their children's physical and emotional state of health." He said the families should be given visas.

"These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation," he said. "They should be released without further delay."

The Thursday visit by the Swiss, who represent U.S. interests in Iran, was the first since October and the third since the three University of California at Berkeley graduates were detained July 31, after apparently straying into Iran while hiking in a scenic part of Iraq. This month, Iran's intelligence minister accused them of having links to U.S. intelligence services. Their families said the charge was absurd.

Late Thursday, the mothers of two of the three, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer, told the Associated Press that their children were in poor health. Shourd, who is being held alone in a cell, is suffering from a serious gynecological condition and battling depression, while Bauer has a stomach ailment, their mothers said.

Crowley would not comment on the conditions of Shourd, Bauer and the third detainee, Josh Fattal, but said: "We have concerns about their health and welfare. We've had concerns since last fall."

Iranian officials have suggested that the three will be prosecuted, but no trial has been set. Although their families hired an Iranian attorney, he has not been allowed to see them.

Bauer and Fattal, both 27, and Shourd, 31, had been allowed no sympathetic visitors in months, although they were permitted to call their mothers in early March. The calls lasted about a minute.

Their mothers were heartened that the Swiss diplomats were allowed a 40-minute visit.

The three have been told almost nothing by their captors about why they are being held or what charges they could face, their mothers said.

"They are very worried about the fact that they've been in there so long," said Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, of Pine City, Minn.

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