Iran’s release of two American hikers was a transparent attempt to burnish its image before an address to the United Nations today in which President Ahmadinejad will doubtless proclaim the Islamic Republic’s moral superiority over the West. In fact Iran deserves not an iota of credit for freeing the two men — only condemnation for having incarcerated them for so long.
The spying charges levelled against Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who was released last year, were manifestly absurd. They were hiking near a well-known tourist spot on the poorly defined border between Iran and northern Iraq. They possessed nothing more incriminating than a camera and a plastic compass. None spoke Persian. Ms Shourd was wearing shorts and her head was uncovered. All three had long records of pro-Palestinian, anti-war activism. The regime held them for two years before putting them on trial, and even then produced not a shred of evidence against them.
Mr Ahmadinejad called their release a “unilateral humanitarian gesture” but it had nothing to do with justice or compassion. It was pure political stagecraft. The true face of Iranian “compassion” and “humanity” — one that delegates to the UN General Assembly should keep in mind today — was to be seen 13 miles west of Tehran, where a boy was hanged from a crane before a baying mob at dawn.
Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International’s Iran researcher, put it well:
“Today we’ve seen the vagaries of Iran’s justice system. On one hand, the hikers have been released on bail in the course of an appeal hearing. If that’s true, what has their imprisonment been for? On the other, there has been a hanging of a minor, which is an act that flies in the face of international law. Iran’s justice system has been transformed into the instruments of others’ will, and is in need of comprehensive reform — now.”