MINNEAPOLIS – The mother of one of three American hikers jailed in Iran appealed to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader on Friday to release her daughter and her friends for the holidays, according to a new video.
It's been almost five months since the three were taken captive in Iran for allegedly straying across the country's border and almost two months since their families have had any word on their condition.
"Sarah, Shane and Josh are good people," Nora Shourd of Oakland, Calif., said in the video posted on a Web site dedicated to freeing the three. "They meant no harm to the Islamic Republic of Iran and respect your ancient and noble civilization. If they entered Iran, it was an innocent mistake."
The families have previously pleaded for their release to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Friday's video was the first public outreach to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is Iran's highest-ranking political and religious authority.
"We're saying it's the holidays, please be compassionate and send them home," Shourd told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Sarah Shourd, 31, along with Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27 — all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley — had been trekking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region when they accidentally crossed the border, according to their relatives.
Iran's foreign minister said Monday the three would be tried in court, though their mothers have not been able to confirm a pending trial. The minister did not say when the trial would begin or even what the Americans were charged with, other than that they had "suspicious aims." Last month, Iran's chief prosecutor said they were accused of spying.
The U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with Iran, and so far their families have held off on hiring a lawyer for their children out of hope they will be freed without a trial.
Since their capture, the only word on their condition came after two prison visits by Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. The last prison visit was at the end of October, with the diplomats reporting the three appeared healthy. Family members say the Swiss have requested more visits but have been denied.
"We're being stonewalled, and it's tough not to have any information," Nora Shourd said. "We can only fill in the blanks."
Their jailing comes amid an increasingly bitter standoff between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies have given Tehran until the end of the year to accept a U.N.-drafted plan under which Iran would send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad. Iran, which denies it intends to build a weapon, has countered with an alternate proposal to keep the material inside its territory — a scenario deemed unacceptable to the U.S.
Ahmadinejad noted last month that the United States was holding several Iranian citizens, raising concern that his government might be seeking to use the Americans in a deal.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Iranian move to put the three on trial was "totally unfounded" and appealed anew to authorities to release the Americans.
Hadi Ghaemi, the spokesman for the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran who has spoken with the families, has urged them to hire a lawyer in Iran. "With a lawyer there's that possibility they could get some information," he said.
But Ghaemi was quick to add that the families are in a complex situation with few easy calls.
"It's very difficult even for specialists like us, who do this work around the clock, to have a very good understanding of what is going on inside Iran," Ghaemi said. "I think they're doing their best, given the circumstances."