The mothers of two of three Americans jailed in Iran for nearly a year said Thursday that an Iranian nuclear scientist's return to his homeland after being in the United States has given family members hope for the release of their loved ones.
"I'm very happy that he's been returned, that he can reconnect with his family," Cindy Hickey, the mother of jailed American Shane Bauer, told The Associated Press of Sharan Amiri, shortly after his return to Tehran. "I can't help but be hopeful this might loosen things up a bit."
Hickey was quick to caution that family members of Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal have no reason to think Amiri's return to Iran could affect the fate of the Americans. They have been jailed in Tehran by the Iranian government since last July 31, after they were seized while on what their families say was an innocent hiking trip in northern Iraq near the Iranian border. Iranian officials have accused them of espionage.
Hickey recalled remarks last November by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who when asked about the detained Americans linked their case to those of Iranians he said were unjustly held by the U.S. He pointed to Amiri's case as one example.
"However, there's no information we've been given from our government that anything like that is going to happen," Hickey said. "We can't let ourselves get too tied up in these possibilities."
Fattal's mother, Laura, said the families hope Amiri's case "bodes well" for the return of the hikers but have no idea if it will.
"We totally believe the Iranians know they're innocent," she said.
Iran's deputy foreign minister, Hassan Qashqavi, has said there would be "no link" between Amiri's return and the case of the three Americans.
The U.S. said Amiri was a willing defector who changed his mind and decided to board a plane home from Washington. He has told a very different tale, claiming he was snatched while on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and shipped to the U.S. to be harshly interrogated and offered millions of dollars by the CIA to speak against Iran.
Amiri received a hero-style welcome upon his return to Tehran.
His return coincided with the latest effort by the families of the three Americans to draw attention to their children's nearly yearlong captivity. On Thursday, the families released a letter sent by the mothers to Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of Iran's judiciary, in which they call the continued imprisonment "unlawful and inhumane" and plead for their release prior to the one-year anniversary of their capture.
"We've been waiting and waiting and waiting," Hickey said. "It's coming up to the one-year mark, and there's no good reason for them to be there."
Iranian officials have indicated that the three will be tried for espionage, but have not indicated a trial date or allowed them to visit with an Iranian lawyer hired by the families. Hickey said there has been no new word on the condition of the three since Iran granted their mothers a brief visit in May.
Bauer, 28, Shourd, 31, and Fattal, 28 are all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley.