Inquirer Editorial: Free the hikers!

Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal have been held in Iran since 2009.
Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal have been held in Iran since 2009. (AP Photo/Press TV)
Posted: May 15, 2011

If the Iranian government were capable of feeling shame, it would be hanging its head at the unjustified 21-month detention of two Americans and the anguish this outrage has caused the men's families.

In July 2009, three Americans were apprehended by Iranian authorities while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a tourist region near the border with Iran.

Josh Fattal of Elkins Park, and two friends he'd met at the University of California, Berkeley - Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd - were accused of illegal entry and unspecified espionage charges.

The trio were denied due process, a lawyer, and access to their families for months. The little communication that has been allowed has been maddeningly inconsistent and brief.

The last contact the Fattals had with Josh was a five-minute phone call six months ago.

No one takes seriously Iran's attempts to portray the hikers as spies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has denounced the charges. On the one-year anniversary of the arrests, President Obama spoke on their behalf. Many other voices around the world have called for their release.

In September, Shourd was finally freed for health reasons, after more than 400 days in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

The so-called trial of Fattal and Bauer - Shourd wisely declined to return for this farce - began on Feb. 6. The two men maintained their innocence and the session was adjourned.

A second hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday but was canceled at the last minute.

"As a mother, I am hysterical" with worry, Laura Fattal said in response to the delay. "It's very clear that Iran uses time as a tactic. It is cruel and inhumane."

Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, said this was "another example of the arbitrary treatment Shane and Josh have been subjected to. The Iranian authorities continue to play games with their lives and the constant uncertainty . . . is ruining our lives as well."

Last week, Sarah Shourd wrote in the New York Times, "The human spirit cannot accept punishment for no cause."

Nor should the world community. Let it rise up and demand the immediate, unconditional release of these two Americans.

Free the hikers.

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