Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why You Should Care about the Hikers Held in Iran...

Dear friends,

Nine and a half months ago, two of my friends, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, were arrested along with their friend Josh Fattal while hiking near the Iranian border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

You probably heard about the hikers in the news, but most people don't know much about them personally. They are incredible people I spent a lot of time with while living in Damascus, Syria last year. Shane was doing photo-journalism around the Middle East. Sarah was working without pay for the Iraqi Student Project, teaching English to Iraqi students whose education was interrupted by the war and occupation and helping secure scholarships and spots for them at US universities. She invited me to give a presentation on Palestine to her students, which I happily did. The presentation was enhanced by memorably insightful comments by Sarah that demonstrated clearly her wisdom and experience in movements for social justice and creating a better world for everyone. The last time I saw Sarah and Shane was at a pot-luck they threw shortly before I left.

I was going to write an article about my friends but the article below really says it all. The three hikers' families had asked us not to write anything related to politics about them until now.

Thanks for reading,


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Why You Should Care about the Three Americans Held in Iran

by Scott Campbell

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 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.

1 comment:

Judy Kohnen said...

I had many comments from Americans about going to Iran to visit a friend of mine last month. How can you go to a country that supports the holocaust? It is not safe. What about the hikers? As if my trip endorses and supports the Iranian government. I researched the news, which made me worry; and asked people who had been to Iran how it was (lonely planet is the best travel source). Everyone loves their travels to Iran. It is the epitome of what travel was in yesteryear, when the world was serene, logistically somewhat inconvenient, but hospitable and culturally rewarding. What about the caveat of the government? It did factor in... every tourist knows that in Iran women keep their heads covered, and that writers, activities, government workers of all countries keep a low profile (if they are granted a visa at all), no photos of anything military (meaning airports, telecommunications, prisons, checkpoints) don't carry Iranian government reports with you, do not evangelize religion, no drugs or alcohol, no homosexual activities, stay away from all ports and borders, and be meticulous with the terms of your visa. This is not a stringent list of conditions, they easily fall into my polite guest behaviors, and they are not so bad if you consider that there are no terms that will get you into to Saudi or many other Islamic nations (even if they are US government friendlies).

Here we have the 3 hikers: with activists/political backgrounds, wandering around the border/crossing the border, no visas for Iran. Three strikes. If they took just one photo of the border area it would be seen as military spying.

Governments are distinct from their people. The US also has foreign nationals in prison without representation. There is a case of a 16 year old Syrian girl, held for years in the States on visa violations and caught btw government bickering and regulations. The US government admitted to kidnapping at least 70 foreigners around the world and extraditing them to other countries for torture, without representation. Governments sometimes decide who is guilty by their political agenda; then even the qualified are powerless to investigate and liberate any innocent people regardless whether government is US or Iranian lead. One significant democratic difference, I am confident that I will be not arrested for posting this comment!

Publicity about the hikers will generate ill will and political fodder for the US to demonize the Iranian nation, which generates sanctions, which affects the education, employment and welfare of the people and which keeps tourists away, which affects the economy, which affects the people. Probably not a consequence that the hikers would advocate. I saw signs for Evin prison when I was in Iran last month. I could have gone there, taken pictures of the place, knocked on the gate, asked for an interview. Maybe shared a cell with the female hiker. I didn't. Some push the envelope, others don't.

How do we, as common people, navigate ourselves within the political tit-for-tat framework? We stay human on a people to people basis. We confront fear. If we are lucky, we choose our actions; like me being a staid tourist in a vilified land and the hikers with their do-good volunteer work. If we are unlucky then our actions are forced upon us by circumstance, as with the parents of the hikers, now seeking publicity to free their children.

The writer of this article is absolutely correct. On a human level we should care when people are ill and are not accorded their human dignity. The hikers have paid the price for straying outside the lines, and I would never relinquish hope that they get released.