WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama urges Iran Friday to “immediately release” three American hikers being captured by the Islamic republic, saying they had never worked for the US government and committed “absolutely no crime.” Obama, ahead of the one-year anniversary Saturday of the hikers’ arrest, said the trio were “simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America, and of the human spirit.” The hikers — Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 — have “never had any quarrel with the government of Iran, and have great respect for the Iranian people,” the Obama said. “I call on the Iranian government to immediately release Sarah, Shane and Josh,” he said, adding that their “unjust detention has nothing to do with the issues that continue to divide the United States and the international community from the Iranian government.”
Iranian authorities detained the group near the Iraq border during what the trio said was a hiking holiday in the Kurdish mountains of northern Iraq. Earlier Friday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the mothers of the hikers also renewed appeals for the trio’s release. “Their release by Iran is long overdue and their continued detention is unjustifiable,” Clinton said in a statement. “We urge Iran to take action in the case of the three hikers… We call on Iran to do the right thing and allow these three Americans to return home to their families,” she said. In New York about 50 people, including the group’s mothers, demonstrated outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations carrying placards that said “Shame on you Iran” and “One year is enough — let them go.” “I have an innocent child with two innocent friends languishing in prison. It’s time for them to come home,” said Laura Fattal, mother of Josh. She said that after 12 months “the mental and psychological stress on my child and their two friends is terrible.” Obama in his statement said he wanted to “particularly acknowledge the suffering and advocacy of Sarah, Shane and Josh’s families,” adding he had spoken with their mothers. “The Iranian government’s gesture of allowing these mothers to visit their children was welcome, but I cannot imagine how painful it was for these three courageous women to return home without their children,” Obama said. Cindy Hickey, mother of Shane Bauer, meanwhile in New York denounced the “political” and “unjust” detention, while Nora Shourd, mother of Sarah, said: “We want to bring them home.” Shourd said the fact the three had not been able to see their lawyer was “an outrage also from a legal point of view.” Amnesty International urged the US citizens’ release, with the rights group’s Middle East director Malcolm Smart saying it appeared “clear that the Iranian authorities do not have substantial grounds to prosecute these three individuals. 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 Americans should be “charged with recognizably 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. In the US Senate, meanwhile, lawmakers introduced a symbolic resolution marking one year since the hikers were detained and calling on Iran to “immediately and unconditionally release” them on humanitarian grounds.