Swiss envoy never shown evidence against US hikers

AP News
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Posted: Sep 29, 2011 8:38 AM
Swiss envoy never shown evidence against US hikers

Switzerland's ambassador to Iran says she was never shown evidence to back up Iranian convictions of two American men for spying, despite acting as their consular representative in the country.

Iranian authorities permitted her four consular visits with Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer during their two-year detention. Each visit lasted about 45 minutes and Iranian officials were always present, the Swiss envoy, Livia Leu, said.

After pressure from her embassy, the two men were able to move into the same cell, something that helped stave off what Leu described as the most difficult part of their incarceration: loneliness.

They were also allowed eventually to meet fellow American Sarah Shourd, who had been arrested with them along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. Shourd was released on health grounds a year ago before facing trial.

Other requests were denied by the Iranians.

"We tried very hard to be admitted to the trial, but we were not," Leu told The Associated Press in an interview conducted by telephone and email.

"We never saw any of the evidence, nor any of the actual court proceedings," she said.

Under the 1963 Vienna Conventions on Consular Relations embassies have the right to visit detained citizens under their care, but aren't automatically required to have access to a trial.

Switzerland has represented the United States' diplomatic interests in Iran since the two countries broke off ties following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Swiss embassy is the go-to point for some 8,000 registered Americans in Iran, compared with just 200 Swiss nationals listed as being in the country. Swiss diplomats also act as a confidential back channel for messages between Tehran and Washington on issues such as Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Switzerland, Iraq and Oman last week for their role in securing the men's release.

Leu said the arrest of Fattal, Bauer and Shourd came at an unfortunate time, just as Iranian authorities were confronted with street protests over the disputed 2009 presidential elections. Iran accused the Americans of illegally entering the country and of spying, something the trio have disputed. They say they might have accidentally wandered across the unmarked frontier but strongly deny espionage.

After being freed last week on a $1 million bail and leaving the country, Fattal and Bayer claimed they were detained solely because of their nationality. Shourd, who was released on similar bail, said the men had been mistreated in prison.

Leu declined to comment on the allegations, but said her staff intervened repeatedly on the Americans' behalf over "certain complaints."

Their treatment improved over time, she said. During her visits, Leu found the prisoners to be "coping well under the circumstances."

"The most difficult was the uncertainty and the high degree of isolation that they experienced," she said.