For well over a year, two American citizens who are Palestine solidarity activists have languished in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison (the third citizen was released in September). The citizens–Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal–were arrested by Iranian authorities on the Iran-Iraq border and are now being tried on charges of “espionage.”
Why aren’t they out yet? Jesse Rosenfeld, an independent journalist, offers this explanation in Foreign Policy’s Mideast Channel:
Looking at Bauer’s and Fattal’s political track records, it becomes clear that Washington is unlikely to trade much to retrieve outspoken critics of US policy in the Middle East…
Shourd, Fattal and Bauer, according to [Shon Meckfessel, who was traveling with the jailed Americans,] had made close connections with people in the West Bank popular struggles against Israel’s wall in the town of Bi’lin and the family of Bassem and Jahwar Abu Rahmah. Bassem was killed in April 2009 after being shot in the stomach by a tear gas canister during a demonstration, while Jahwar died on January 1, 2011 resulting from heavy teargas exposure during a demonstration the previous day.
Meckfessel highlighted that at the time of their arrest, Bauer — a critical journalist in the Middle East — was finishing an article on the effect of Israel’s use of the American made high-velocity teargas canisters on the Palestinian anti-wall struggles. The story was never published due to Bauer’s detainment.
It is likely for this reason that the US seems to be putting little effort into securing the release of Fattal and Bauer, and would be unlikely to engage in a high profile trade for them. This is reenforced by the assessment in an US Embassy cable — part of the Wikileaks releases — which seeks to construe events in a manner that allows the US to blame the hikers while distancing the government from any responsibility for their protection.
There’s no concrete proof that the Obama administration hasn’t pushed harder for the hikers’ release because of their solidarity work and outspokenness about U.S. policy in the Middle East.
But it’s not a crazy claim to make. Whenever Palestine solidarity activists who are American citizens are in trouble, the U.S. does little to help. Whether it’s Emily Henochowicz or Furkan Dogan, there’s a clear pattern of the U.S. shirking its responsibility to protect its citizens–making Rosenfeld’s explanations for why Fattal and Bauer remain in jail plausible.