Three Americans jailed in Iran meet with their mothers
TEHRAN -- The mothers of three Americans jailed in Iran met with their children Thursday for the first time since they were arrested nine months ago while hiking in the Iraq-Iran border area, Iranian state television reported.
The three hikers -- Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend, Joshua Fattal, 27 -- have been held in Tehran's Evin prison, where they have complained to diplomats about isolation and depression. Iranian authorities have informally accused the trio of spying, an allegation their relatives strongly deny. No formal charges have been filed against the three since their arrest in late July.
State television's English-language channel, Press TV, showed the mothers hugging and kissing their children after they were reunited in a Tehran hotel. The mothers wore conservative long head scarves in keeping with an Iranian requirement that women cover their hair. Carrying bouquets of flowers, they embraced their children, who looked thin but otherwise appeared to be in good health.
As all six of them sat together on a low-slung couch afterward, Shourd told reporters that it has been "terrible to be away from our families for this long."
"We've only received one phone call, and that was five minutes long and that was amazing -- we waited and prayed for that every day," she said. "This [meeting] is something obviously we've been praying for, and it makes a huge difference." She said that their treatment by the Iranian authorities has been "decent" but that for her, "it's really difficult being alone."
"Shane and Josh are in a room together, but I'm alone, and that's the most difficult thing for me," she said. She added that she is allowed to see Bauer and Fattal twice a day.
Cindy Hickey, the mother of Bauer, said the three women were "very grateful to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the authorities for granting us a visa" and allowing the visit.
"We know that this is a great humanitarian act that they have given to us. Our reception was wonderful when we came into Iran," she said in comments aired on Press TV.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has used the Americans' case to call attention to several Iranians imprisoned in the United States, prompting speculation that the Islamic republic would be interested in an exchange. Iranian authorities strongly deny this.
Masoud Shafii, a lawyer representing the three Americans, said he would meet with the mothers Friday. They are hoping to meet with Ahmadinejad and possibly even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to try to persuade them to release their children.
"They came to see their children, their lawyer and any high official they can meet," Shafii said in an interview. "Legally, there needs to be a court case. [The three Americans] have not been charged with anything yet. We should look at this case diplomatically more than from a legal perspective."
But on Wednesday, Iran's intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, reiterated his accusations that the American hikers were on an espionage mission.
"Your nationals have spied," Moslehi said on state television, addressing U.S. authorities. "In other words, the nature of their action was illegal."
Moslehi repeated demands for the release of several Iranians who the Iranian government says were abducted by the United States.