WASHINGTON – An American woman released from prison in Iran says she won't go back to stand trial there alongside two fellow hikers charged with spying for the U.S.
Sarah Shourd told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and returning would be "far too traumatic after what I've already been through."
The three Americans insist they were on an innocent hiking trip during a vacation in Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq, when they were arrested by Iranian soldiers on July 31, 2009. U.S. authorities have repeatedly called for their release and denied that the hikers were involved in espionage.
Shourd was released from Iranian custody on bail in September. Her fiance Shanee Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, both still imprisoned in Tehran, are scheduled for a second session of their trial on May 11.
Bauer and Fattal pleaded innocent in a first trial session in February. Shourd pleaded innocent in absentia. The hikers say they did not realize they had crossed into Iran.
Shourd said the three had visited the popular tourist village of Ahmed Awa and then hiked onward along a trail that local people had recommended.
"When Shane and Josh and I met the Iranian soldiers, we were completely shocked. There was absolutely no indication of a border," she said.
Shourd said she was diagnosed with PTSD by clinical forensic psychologist Barry Rosenfeld. She said the five-page psychological evaluation had been sent to the Iranian Revolutionary Court. Shourd said she had not heard back in response to her refusal to go back for trial on the grounds that she risked "renewed or even worse psychological problems" if she returns.
"My own mental health makes me even more afraid for what is happening with Shane and Josh," Shourd said. "I was there for 14 months and Shane and Josh have now been there for over 21 months. So I can't imagine the toll it's taken on them."
Shourd was released on $500,000 bail arranged through the Gulf nation of Oman, which has close ties to the West and Iran. Iranian officials ordered Shourd back for the trial. By refusing to respond to the request, her bail likely will be forfeited. The source of the bail payment has not been disclosed.
Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English teacher. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them in July 2009 shortly before their trip to northern Iraq.
It was impossible to forecast what punishment Bauer and Fattal could face if found guilty, because of the secretive nature of the Iranian judicial system. Their case recalls that of American-Iranian journalist Roxanna Saberi, who was arrested in Iran in January 2009, convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. She was freed on appeal in May 2009.