UPDATE AUGUST 20, 2011 - It’s been reported in state controlled Iranian media that Josh Fattel and Shane Bauer have been sentenced to 8 years imprisonment. In several past cases, the assigning of a long prison term was followed by a reduction in sentence and early release. It remains to be seen if that is the case here or if Shane and Josh are being used as pawns in an internal Iranian power struggle.
In July, 2009 three Americans, Sara Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattel were hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Their travels took them near the border of Iran where they were arrested by the Iranian Border Patrol. It is a subject of some dispute whether or not they actually crossed the border. What is not disputed is that Shane and Josh still languish in an Iranian prison. Sara was released last year on “humanitarian” grounds after spending 410 days in solitary confinement.
The government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeing an opportunity to use the hikers as a scapegoat for their disagreements with American foreign policy, charged them with espionage. The hikers are all graduates of Berkeley, if the Iranians were serious about the facts of this case they would realize that Berkeley is not exactly a hotbed for American espionage agents. The trial of Shane and Josh was supposed to start this week but was postponed with no explanation.
When I first heard this story in 2009 it didn’t register much with me. At the time I assumed the hikers would be held for a few days and then released. I certainly didn’t foresee that their captivity, now at 650 days, would exceed the 444 days that America’s hostages were held in Iran from 1979 -1981.
A month ago I happened to meet the mother of Josh Fattal. I had just finished watching a one-man show called in Philadelphia called 17 Border Crossings. This original piece, by artist Thaddeus Phillips, portrays his worldwide travels and the various situations he encountered when crossing from one culture to another. At the end of the show the lights came on and he invited a woman onto the stage. I had seen her in the lobby before the show and had noticed the t-shirt she was wearing that had a reference to the hikers.
Laura Fattal gingerly stepped onto the stage and spoke from the heart. She reminded us that her son Josh and his best friend Shane were still in an Iranian prison. The last time they were permitted to speak with him was six months ago. Representatives of Switzerland have not been allowed to see the men since October.
Laura left the audience in tears as she told us about the plight of her son. She expressed the pain she felt as only a mother can. She fights on to create awareness of the situation and hopes that she can somehow raise some sympathy with the Iranian government. The list of those that have spoken out for the men includes: Bishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, Amnesty International and even Yusef Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.)
The trial of the hikers was scheduled to start this week but was postponed yet again by the Iranian government. For the waiting families frustration piles upon frustration. I cannot imagine the anxiety and pain she feels every day knowing that her son is in an Iranian prison. She is doing everything possible for him but she is up against an intransigent Iranian government.
For further information, or to express your support, you can contact: http://freethehikers.org/