American urges release of friends

Sarah Shroud insists her two companions should be freed from Iranian prison because they are innocent.

    Shourd said in a press conference in New York that she and her companions "committed no crime" [AFP]

    The freed American woman, who was held in Iran for more than 13 months, has said that she and two men detained with her were not spies and committed no crime, calling their arrest "a huge misunderstanding.''

    Sarah Shourd underscored her gratitude at being released but said she felt only "one-third free" because her fiance Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, a friend of the couple, remain in Tehran's Evin Prison.

    "This is not the time to celebrate," Shourd, 32, said in prepared remarks at a New York news conference on Sunday.

    "The only thing that enabled me to cross the gulf from prison to freedom alone was the knowledge that Shane and Josh wanted with all their hearts for my suffering to end."

    Shourd, who was seized by Iranian authorities close to the Iraqi border in July 2009, was freed on Tuesday after officials in Oman mediated a $500,000 bail deal with Iran.

    The authorities charged the three with "spying and illegally entering the country", but they said they entered Iran by mistake after getting lost in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    "If we were indeed near the Iraq-Iran border, that border was entirely unmarked and indistinguishable," Shourd said.

    'Humanitarian release'

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, has said Shourd's release was "a huge humanitarian gesture" and called on the US to make a similar move by releasing Iranians he claimed were being illegally detained.


    Journalist Roxana Saberi talks with Al Jazeera about her experiences in an Iranian prison

    "You may be aware that eight Iranians are illegally being detained in the US. I believe it would not be misplaced to ask that the US government to make a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained," he said in an interview with ABC news in the US.

    Shourd praised the Iranian government, saying: "My gratitude goes in particular to Ayatollah Khamenei, [Iran's supreme leader], and President Ahmadinejad for my compassionate release from detention."

    However, she insisted that her companions should be freed because they had done nothing wrong.

    "Shane and Josh don't deserve to be in prison one day longer than I do. We committed no crime, and we are not spies."

    Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, said: "Without question, her words were carefully worded and, in my view, quite orchestrated in order not to jeopardise the safety and the possible release of the two other Americans whom the Iranian regime is continuing to hold in Iran."

    Shourd's mother, Nora, also spoke at the press conference and said she and the other mothers were holding onto hope that Fattal and Bauer would also be freed.

    "I applaud the humanity that set Sarah free and I cry encore, encore for Shane and Josh," Nora Shourd said. "We will not stop until they are home and we will redouble our efforts to get them out."

    Cindy Hickey, Shane's mother, voiced hope that Shourd's release was a step towards the release of the remaining two prisoners.

    "We are encouraged that perhaps the humanitarianism will be renewed and our sons will be home very soon."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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