Two years ago, our families received an unexpected telephone call from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. We were told that our sons, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, and Shane’s fiancee, Sarah Shourd, had been arrested by Iranian soldiers on the unmarked border with Kurdistan, a safe and semiautonomous area of Iraq where they had been hiking during a vacation. We thought the misunderstanding would amount at most to 24 hours of detention, not 24 months of heartbreak, anguish and fear for the mental and physical health of our sons. Shane and Josh were both 27 when they set out. Now they are 29.
On Sunday, the second anniversary of their arrest, Shane and Josh are due to appear in court in Tehran for what the Iranian judiciary has called a “final hearing” to answer a charge of illegal entry and baseless allegations of espionage. We pray that Sunday’s session will mark the end of this nightmare for them and for us. It is time for Josh and Shane to come home and continue their purposeful and promising young lives.
In the two years since Shane and Josh were arrested, our lives have changed in ways we never could have imagined. We have had to give up jobs and close businesses; we have had to face the intractable dilemma of whether to devote time to caring for aging parents or trying to help win freedom for our sons. Our sleep is broken by nightmares. We never go anywhere out of cellphone range for fear of not being available to hear the news we constantly await.
Shane, a freelance photojournalist, and Josh, an environmental advocate, share a 10-by-14-foot cell in Evin Prison in Tehran. We can only imagine the extent of their isolation. Their only regular contact is with their guards. The only other person they saw regularly, Sarah, was released on Sept. 14 last year. They applauded her freedom. It made them “one-third free,” they told her. Now we have to hope that their turn too has come because, like Sarah, they are absolutely innocent.
Sunday’s hearing before Justice Abolqasem Salavati, who presides over Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, will be only the second court appearance for Shane and Josh in two years.
Two of three hearings that were to have been held were canceled. Promises of justice and a positive outcome “soon” from Iranian government officials have also come and gone, along with the seasons. Through this all, Josh and Shane have not had a private meeting with their lawyer, Masoud Shafii. They have received only four consular visits from Swiss diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Iran, the most recent last October, and have been able to call us only three times.
Late last year, two months after Sarah was released, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary-general of the High Council for Human Rights in Iran, appeared on U.S. television and said publicly that Sarah was incapable of espionage. That gave us great hope. He said there might be a way to settle the issue outside of court. “Let us assume that these people were innocent; they were really hikers,” he told NBC News.
That settlement hasn’t happened. On Sunday, we hope that the court will, at long last, recognize that Shane and Josh really were hikers.
We hope that mercy, compassion and a commitment to justice will prevail. We have hoped that many, many times over the last two years. We cannot face having those hopes dashed yet again.
Laura Fattal lives in Pennsylvania. Cindy Hickey lives in Minnesota.