Captured hikers allowed to phone home

2011-05-23 14:48

Washington – Two US hikers held in Iran on espionage charges were allowed to call home for just the third time since their arrest and sounded “reasonably well”, a statement from the families said today.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal told their families that they had staged a 17-day hunger strike after they were prevented from receiving letters.

The families vowed to continue their own hunger strike until the two men, both 28, are released.

Bauer, a freelance journalist, spoke with his mother, Cindy Hickey, and left a message for his fiancee, Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with the two men on July 31, 2009 and later freed on bail.

Fattal spoke with his father Jacob. Both calls lasted less than five minutes. The telephone calls were the first the families had received from Bauer and Fattal since November 27.

“As much as we welcome the calls after six months of silence, they have by no means lessened our concern for Shane and Josh and their mental welfare in light of their awful isolation,” the families said in the statement.

“While Shane and Josh sounded reasonably well, we learnt that they had to stage a 17-day hunger strike earlier this year because they were not being allowed to get the letters we send them every day.

“Their inhumane treatment has to end with their immediate release. The people responsible for their unjustified imprisonment are bringing shame on Iran by continuing to hold Shane and Josh without due process and for no legitimate reason.”

A fast, announced earlier this month by the mothers of the two men, coincided with the anniversary of their brief visit to Tehran one year ago, the only time they have seen their sons since their arrest.

The trial of Bauer and Fattal, after numerous delay, was to have begun this month, but was postponed by the Tehran government without explanation.

Shourd, who is engaged to Bauer, was freed on bail in September after being imprisoned for 14 months.

She is being tried in absentia after she returned to the United States when she was freed on humanitarian and medical grounds, after paying bail of about $500 000 (R3.5 million).

The hikers have pleaded not guilty to spying charges, saying they innocently strayed into Iran from across the unmarked border with northern Iraq when they were arrested.

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