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Iran official confirms arrest of 3 US backpackers for 'illegal entry'

[JURIST] An Iranian official confirmed Tuesday the arrest of three US citizens who entered the country on Saturday from Iraq's Kuridish region, according to a state media report [FNA report]. The Americans, who possessed Iraqi and Syrian visas, have been charged with illegal entry near the city of Marivan at the Malakh Khor border while reportedly backpacking through northern Iraq. They have been identified as Shane Bauer, Sara Shourd, and Joshua Fattal. An Iraqi police officer reported that the three backpackers were linked [PressTV report] to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website], although the claim has not been confirmed. After being questioned on the matter during a Monday meeting, before the Americans' custody was confirmed, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] expressed her concern over their reported disappearance and called for Iranian government cooperation [transcript text]. While Clinton maintained that the State Department was not prepared to give specific information regarding their plans, she stated that certain sanctions against Iran are possible.

Arrests of US citizens in Iran have been a frequent cause of concern. In May, Iran released [JURIST report] convicted US journalist Roxana Saberi [BBC profile]. Saberi, a dual US-Iran citizen, was originally arrested for illegally purchasing alcohol and was later sentenced to eight years in prison [JURIST report] on espionage charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] reported last year that Iran ranked sixth [report text] in the world for imprisoned journalists. In 2007, Iran charged Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and media correspondent Parnaz Azima with allegedly engaging in an espionage conspiracy [JURIST report]. Tajbakhsh and Azima, along with two other Iranian-Americans, were originally accused of being part of a US-organized spy network.

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