Sarah Shourd, the American woman who was hiking in the Iraq-Iran border region last year and was arrested on that occasion and who subsequently spent 13 months in a prison in Iran, was finally released on 14 September 2010 without ever having been charged although the Iranian government continues to claim that she was/is a spy.
I am happy for her, but we should not forget that her two friends Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still being held by Iran. We also should not forget that she was just hiking in the mountains, something which doesn’t really warrant being put into an Iranian prison for more than year.
Unfortunately, Ms Shourd’s own comments after her release sound rather mitigating. Upon her release, she thanked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the representatives of the country that imprisoned her, for that “humanitarian gesture” of freeing her. No word about the year of her life that she has lost. But that wasn’t all: On 24 September 2010, Ms Shourd met with President Ahmadinejad in New York and later said that “it was a very gracious gesture and a good meeting”.
While I fully understand that Ms Shourd has to be diplomatic because her two friends are still in Iran’s hands, I would still like to point out that spending time in an Iranian prison is no piece of cake. How do I know that? I was there myself in June/July 2009. – I have seen a lot of bad places, but Evin prison in Tehran is as close to hell as I have ever been. I certainly have no reason to thank anybody in the Iranian government for kidnapping me from the middle of the street while I was on the way to a restaurant, for keeping me in solitary confinement and blindfolded for a week, for making me sleep on the floor and standing against walls for hours, for interrogating and threatening me day and night, for not informing anyone of my imprisonment, for not allowing contact with my embassy, let alone for the severe beating by the police a day before my arrest.
And by the way, releasing a prisoner for 500,000 $ is no “humanitarian gesture”, it’s selling a hostage. If the Iranian government has to resort to these measures to fill up its coffers, it might be a sign that the sanctions are beginning to show some effect.