Friday, February 19, 2010

Since I have considered working in Iraq, Syria, or Iran (someday), it certainly bothers me that THE THREE HIKERS HAVE NOT BEEN FREED

Since I have considered working in Iraq, Syria, or Iran (someday), it certainly bothers me that THE THREE HIKERS HAVE NOT BEEN FREED

By Kevin Stoda, lifelong international educator, traveler and photographer

I decided to look at the FREE THE HIKERS LINK after hearing the Democracy Now [DN] program with two of the mothers of the young American hikers who were on the border of Iraq and Iran last year (July 2009)—only to be arrested and kidnapped further into Iran by Iranian authorities last autumn. They have no been sitting as stooges or hostages in Iran for over 6 months. Cindy Hickey and Nora Shourd were the guests on DN yesterday and made it clear the three Americans can hardly be confused for spies.

The friends-of-the-three-hikers website supporting the imprisoned-three is very convincing of the idealistic and people-oriented kidnapped victims in Iran. Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were a couple and lived together in Damascus. (Sarah taught English to refugees in Syria.) Josh Fattal

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has appeal on their behalf. Last month, Tutu wrote to the Iranian leadership, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that [Shane, Sarah and Josh] continue to be held because they are Americans and not for any legal reason. I urge the Iranian authorities not to deny them their freedom in order to express their discontent with the United States. Nations have a right to disagree but their citizens should not be made to pay the price of their differences.”

According to the website, FREE THE HIKERS, “The three young Americans, all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, are being held in Evin Prison in Tehran. They have not been charged with any crime and have not had any contact with their families. Shane, Josh and Sarah care greatly about the world in which we live. They admire and respect different cultures and religions and share a love of travel that has taken them to many countries. That is why they went to Kurdistan, not because they wanted to enter Iran. We hope the Iranian authorities understand that if Shane, Sarah and Josh were in Iranian territory there is just one reason: because they made a regrettable mistake and got lost. Please let them return home as soon as possible.”

The website encourages you to record a YOU-TUBE message and send it in. Hopefully, it will be seen by the intended people in Iran—and the three (Shane, Josh, and Sarah) will at least here about it. (You can support the 3 from this website and sign into Facebook.)

Shon McFessal, a friend of the three and on the border trip with the 3, said on DN last autumn, “So I understand clearly why the Iranian authorities would be curious about their presence, initially, and have some questions for them, but they know who they are at this point. They know what their characters are. Everything is publicly available. Anyone with questions about their character can look at their writings on the internet or, you know, clearly see our past, as it’s evident. And it’s obvious the kind of people they are. It’s obvious they’re not a threat to Iran, so I just don’t understand why they’re being held.”

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009, when news reports say they accidentally crossed an unmarked border while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan near the Ahmed Awa waterfall, a local beauty spot. They were in a peaceful region of northern Iraq that is increasingly popular with Western tourists attracted by its natural beauty, traditional culture and long history. The three hikers, all graduates of UC Berkeley, entered northern Iraq with visas from Turkey on July 28 and had planned to spend five days visiting the area. A fourth friend, Shon Meckfessel had stayed behind in Sulaimaniya when Shane, Josh and Sarah set out on their hike because he was feeling unwell.
Shane Bauer, 27, has been living in Damascus, Syria with Sarah Shourd since late 2008 and is a student of Arabic, which he speaks fluently. He is a freelance journalist whose writing and award-winning photographs have been published in the US, UK, Middle East, and Canada. Shane, who has two younger sisters, grew up in Onamia, Minnesota and graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in 2007. Shane has reported from Syria, Iraq, Darfur in Sudan, Yemen and Ethiopia but has never reported from Iran, nor expressed any interest in doing so. He had hoped to offer photographs and a story on the aftermath of recent elections in Kurdistan to the online news network New America Media, but was not on a formal news assignment.
Sarah Shourd, 31, has been living with Shane in Damascus, where she teaches English and is learning Arabic. She previously taught as part of the Iraqi Student Project, a program which gives Iraqi students living in Damascus the skills to continue their education in US schools. She was on a break from her teaching responsibilities for a week, and she and Shane decided to take a hiking trip with their friends Josh and Shon. Sarah has written articles on travel and social issues reflecting her time in Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen and Mexico. Sarah, who has an older brother and sister, was born in Chicago, Illinois, grew up in Los Angeles, California and recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Josh Fattal, 27, is an environmentalist who worked for three years at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon, which teaches sustainable living skills. From January to June 2009, Josh was a Teaching Fellow with the International Honors Program (IHP) “Health and Community” study abroad program in Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa. Josh and his elder brother grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. He spent his junior year of college on an IHP study abroad program in the UK, India, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Mexico and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004 with a degree in environmental economics and policy from the College of Natural Resources. Josh was visiting Sarah and Shane in Damascus when they went on their trip.

I RECOMMEND that you guys write the Iranian Embassy and start stepping up the pressure--make the world save for good helpful progressives.

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