Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that the future of three American hikers detained in Iran since July 31 is up to the courts to decide.
While equating the case of the hikers with those of seven Iranian citizens currently incarcerated in US jails, Ahmadinejad said yesterday that the three will be dealt with according to the judicial system set up under Iran’s laws and constitution.
But the three hikers have been held without charge for over 9 months, in direct violation of Article 32 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which guarantees that:
No person may be arrested except according to and in the manner laid down in the law. If someone is detained, the subject matter of the charge, with reasons (for bringing it), must immediately be communicated and explained in writing to the accused. Within at most 24 hours the file on the case and preliminary documentation must be referred to the competent legal authority. Legal procedures must be initiated as early as possible. Anyone infringing this principle will be punished in accordance with the law.
And Article 35, which says:
In all courts, both parties to the claim are entitled to select a lawyer for themselves. If they do not have the capacity to do this, the means of a lawyer being appointed to act for them must be made available to them.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Ahmadinejad in an interview yesterday if the hikers will be allowed access to the outside world and legal representation. Ahmadinejad, whose answers grew increasingly defensive, responded in typical fashion by turning the issue back toward the United States. “If anyone illegally entered U.S. borders, do you think the U.S. Government will let them go freely?” he said.
These three individuals entered our borders illegally. They have confessed to that. They crossed our border. Now, they’re being handled by our judicial system and the judicial system will review their crimes according to the law. We have laws. There’s a due process of law that is being observed.
But the reality simply does not fit with the picture Ahmadinejad is painting. Nine months of incarceration without formal charge. The three have not been allowed access to their lawyer. International observers have had limited access, and questions remain about the health of the three Americans in detention.
Stephanopoulos confronted Ahmadinejad over his claims about due process:
STEPHANOPOULOS: …Will you allow them access to the outside world?
AHMADINEJAD: — …It’s the judge in Iran that will decide. They have to provide proof and evidence to the judge in Iran that shows that they lost their way or made a mistake
STEPHANOPOULOS: But there’s no lawyer.
AHMADINEJAD: No, allow me, when the time comes they will have a lawyer.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They’ve been in prison since July 31.
For a politician as skilled at circumlocution as Ahmadinejad is, this was a rare acknowledgment of the reality of his government’s illegal repression. There is no legal basis for the way these three hikers are currently being treated. Nor is there any legal basis for the treatment of Kian Tajbakhsh (jailed since July 9), Reza Taghavi (jailed in secret for 2 years), or Robert Levinson (missing since 2007).
Finally, Ahmadinejad seemed to repeat his previous suggestion of a possible prisoner exchange — the Americans in exchange for a handful of Iranian nationals currently in jail in the US. (Laura Rozen has covered this extensively, particularly the case of Amir Hossein Ardebili.)
But the fact is that the Iranians currently in prison in the United States have all been
- formally charged in a court of law
- provided access to legal counsel and due process of law
- accused (with evidence to support the charges) of violating US laws relating to arms trafficking, or other sensitive exports
So even though I have no personal or emotional connection to any of the Americans being detained in Iran, I am offended that Ahmadinejad would draw such an absurd equivalence.
If the roles were reversed, and the US Government held Iranians in Guantanamo Bay without charge and without due process, I would criticize that as vehemently as I do the Iranians’ treatment of Americans. But in this case, there simply is no comparison.
Update: At the risk of taking the bait, there’s one more thing about Ahmadinejad’s comparison to the US:
In the US, when people enter the country illegally, law enforcement officials usually deport them back to their country of origin. It’s rare that the crime of illegal immigration carries a prison term of nearly a year in the United States.
So yes, Mr. Ahmadinejad, sometimes when people enter the US borders illegally, the government will let them go freely. Just saying.