Watching the news in August 2009, you may have heard about three U.S. citizens being detained in Iran. Arrested for allegedly crossing the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, 2009, they remain in detention nine months later in Iran’s Evin prison. Dubbed “the hikers” due to the fact that they were on a hiking trip in the Kurdish region of Iraq when they were detained, in their nine months of imprisonment Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal have had only three visits from Swiss consular officials, have been permitted only one brief phone call to their families, and have been denied access to their Iranian lawyer. Their mothers applied for Iranian visas more than four months ago and have received no response. Though Iranian officials occasionally sputter about “espionage,” the only charge they face is “illegal border crossing,” punishment for which is a fine, not indefinite detention.
All of this is outrageous enough, but the picture is even bleaker. Thursday, April 22, was the most recent visit to the hikers by the Swiss — the first since October. Sarah — who is in solitary confinement — told them she is suffering from depression and a severe gynecological condition. Shane, originally also held in solitary but now sharing a cell with Josh, told them he is enduring a stomach ailment. The three of them are considering beginning a hunger strike, despite their poor health and isolation.
The three have lamentably become political pawns in the U.S.-Iranian staring contest. The fact is, despite the West’s belligerence towards Iran, these three individuals demand our support and solidarity. Though they were simply on a hike, they are much more than hikers — they are individuals dedicated to working for a better, more just, and more sustainable world. They are comrades, fellow travelers, activists, organizers, whatever you may want to call them.
It is pertinent to mention that Sarah and Shane are good friends whom I’ve known for several years. I first met Sarah in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2005 when we organized locally to support immigrant rights and participate in the historic May Day marches of 2006 and sent groups down to the border with Mexico to confront nativist vigilantes like the Minutemen. She and Shane lived in a house in Oakland that served as the base for the Midnight Special Law Collective, which provides legal support and much more to activists around the country. In 2007 and 2008, we all worked with Direct Action to Stop the War to organize a series of civil disobedience and direct action efforts to mark the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq.
Before moving to Syria together, Sarah spent time doing solidarity work with the Zapatistas in Chiapas and Shane went to Iraq to document the U.S. occupation, as well as making two trips to Darfur where he covered the rebels fighting the Sudanese army and militias. In Syria, they lived in a Palestinian refugee camp and did Palestine solidarity work, as well as visiting their friend Tristan Anderson in an Israeli hospital where he has been ever since being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier with a high-velocity tear gas canister while protesting against the separation wall in the West Bank. Before heading to Kurdistan, Sarah worked with Iraqi refugees, while Shane reported on the U.S.’s creation of death squads in Iraq for The Nation.
Having never met Josh, I unfortunately know less about him. He spent time at the Aprovecho Research Center working on issues such as sustainable agriculture, food justice, and permaculture. He is deeply committed to issues of ecology and truly democratic politics.
Sarah, Shane, and Josh are not three random Americans. They are allies in the struggle for a better world. And right now they are in a dire situation. In that spirit, I ask for your help. If you’re anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-occupation, help free the hikers. If you oppose sexism, racism, and homophobia, help free the hikers. If you believe in environmental justice and ecological sustainability, help free the hikers. We need them out of there so they can be fighting with us here. Please visit www.freethehikers.org to sign the petition, send letters to the U.S. and Iranian governments, and get in touch to help organize actions to protest their detention and demand their release.
Scott Campbell is a graduate student at NYU. He writes and posts translations at his blog Angry White Kid: angrywhitekid.blogs.com.