Mother of detained hikers issues urgent plea

April 23, 2010 10:55:05 PM PDT
The mother of a young woman being held in an Iranian prison has gone from anxious to angry.

She is no longer parsing her words about what the Iranian government is doing to her daughter and two of her friends. Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested last July while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border.

The hikers made news again after Swiss diplomats visited them in a Tehran prison Thursday. The Swiss act as a third-party because the United States and Iran do not have direct relations.

The Swiss reported back that the Americans need medical help and may stage a hunger strike. Back at home, the families of those hikers are very worried.

When Nora Shourd's daughter first disappeared into an Iranian prison, she chose her words diplomatically. Nine months later, while tending to an altar to the hikers at her sister's Berkeley home, she got directly to the point.

"Our message has been clear from the very beginning," she says. "These kids have absolutely no guilt for anything. Now, they've been there almost nine months, okay? So, what's the hold up? It's kind of like they know who these kids are. It's a ridiculous farce at this point to hold them any longer."

In nine months, Nora has become an old hand at protests and interviews. But, with word of Sarah's failing health, depression, and solitary confinement, and of Shane Bauer's stomach ailment, this effort to free or at least visit the hikers, takes on a new urgency.

"Our kids need to see us, okay? And, we hope that the Iranians understand that. They need a visit from their mothers," she says.

But, this is a complicated drama with international stakes. The hikers are caught in a test of political wills between the United States and Iran, with Iran's nuclear program hanging in the balance.

At Link TV in San Francisco, Middle Eastern expert Jamal Dajani sees both sides.

He says, "Iran wants a face-to-face negotiation with the United States. It wants to be recognized as an equal."

"I think all of us, all the families, feel extremely angry, extremely frustrated right now," Nora says.

While governments operate through tenuous diplomatic channels, the families rely on emotional ones.

"They don't want to be seen as inhumane or non-compassionate, or not having basic human values," Nora says.

Or so she hopes, after almost a year of waiting for her daughter's release.

"Time flies and unfortunately, they're caught in the middle," Dajani says acknowledging that it could be another year or two before they are released. "I hope not. Not for their sake and the sake of their families."

The White House issued a statement about the hikers Friday saying it is deeply alarmed to learn of the hikers' emotional and physical health.

"We strongly believe these urgent developments are additional reasons for the government of Iran to release them immediately," the statement read.

In the meantime, the hikers' families have applied for visas. The Iranian government approved the visas months ago, but the visas never arrived.

On the Net: Hikers' families' Web site: http://freethehikers.org/


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