Rally supports U.S. hikers in Iran prison

Peter Salzer, a family friend of Josh Fattal's, holds a picture frame depicting jail bars; on his back is a photo of Shane Bauer.
Peter Salzer, a family friend of Josh Fattal's, holds a picture frame depicting jail bars; on his back is a photo of Shane Bauer.
Posted: August 01, 2010

Supporters of Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd - American hikers arrested July 31, 2009, and accused of entering Iran illegally - marked the anniversary of their detention Saturday with a rally emphasizing the psychological effects of their open-ended incarceration.

"Being imprisoned in a foreign culture without a sense of duration" is intolerable, Philadelphia psychologist David Goodwin told 75 demonstrators on Independence Mall.

Many wore small white ribbons. Some stood behind picture frames decorated to look like cell bars.

Fattal, 28, a 2000 graduate of Cheltenham High School, Bauer, 28, of Minnesota, and Shourd, 31, of California, met as students at the University of California, Berkeley. They were vacationing in a resort area of northern Iraqi Kurdistan when Iranian border guards arrested them. Iran accuses them of espionage but has not charged them with any crime.

Goodwin, of the Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment, a mental-health facility in West Philadelphia, said the uncertainty and "social isolation" the hikers were experiencing - Fattal and Bauer are housed together, and Shourd is confined alone 23 hours a day - can cause "regression" and feelings of helplessness.

He quoted Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and wrote that solitary confinement "crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."

Richard Atkins, a Philadelphia lawyer specializing in helping Americans in foreign detention, told the demonstrators that Iran had violated its own laws and United Nations standards by holding the prisoners for more than four months without bringing charges and denying access to the Iranian lawyer their parents hired for them.

Saturday's rally came one day after President Obama's first public statement on the case.

"I want to be perfectly clear: Sarah, Shane, and Josh have never worked for the United States government," he said, calling the release of the three a "humanitarian imperative." He called on Iran to abide by "the principles of justice" embodied in the international conventions on human rights that it has signed.

Fattal's mother, Laura, said the president's "enormously supportive" statement "reassured the American people" of the hikers' innocence. It also gave the Iranian government a face-saving choice: to charge the three, try them, and release them for time served; or free them immediately on humanitarian grounds.


Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.

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