U.S. hiker freed by Iran wants Nicaragua to let jailed American go

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 29, 2012 10:45 PM
U.S. hiker freed by Iran wants Nicaragua to let jailed American go

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Activists including an American hiker who had been jailed in Iran delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to a Nicaraguan consulate in Los Angeles on Wednesday demanding freedom for a U.S. citizen they say is unjustly imprisoned in the Central American country.

Jason Puracal, 35, was found guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering by a Nicaraguan trial judge exactly one year ago on August 29, after being detained in 2010. He was sentenced to a 22-year term and has been in solitary confinement and on suicide watch, his supporters told Reuters last month.

Puracal has become a cause célèbre for U.S. and international human rights activists, with U.S. lawmakers appealing to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for his freedom.

Sarah Shourd, an American who was imprisoned in Iran after being arrested in 2009 while hiking near the Iraq border, was among those who delivered the petitions in the latest show of support for Puracal's case.

A Nicaraguan appeals court heard his case earlier this month, and a decision could come anytime.

Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested by Iranian border guards who said they had crossed into Iran from Iraq.

She said she feels "the pain and anxiety his family (is) going through because my fiancé, my husband now, and my friend Josh were imprisoned for a year after I was released."

Shourd had been held for 14 months and was released on humanitarian grounds after a $500,000 bail was paid, but Bauer and Fattal were convicted of illegal entry and espionage. They were freed last year after Oman paid bail of $1 million.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in May that Puracal was arbitrarily imprisoned and recommended he be freed.

The director of the California Innocence Project, which normally focuses on wrongfully convicted inmates in that state's prison system, helped deliver petitions on Wednesday.

Puracal's other backers include a human rights lawyer who previously worked on behalf of former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.

A U.S. citizen born in Washington state, Puracal served in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2002, and he has married a Nicaraguan woman with whom he has a son.

Before his arrest, he worked in real estate in the city of San Juan del Sur, a Pacific Coast surfing destination. His supporters said he came under suspicion because his job gave him control over large sums of money held for property transactions.

Ten Nicaraguan co-defendants were also found guilty despite their testimony that they had never met or worked with Puracal, his legal team said.

Consular officials could not be reached for comment.

(Writing and additional reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Philip Barbara)