On July 31, 2009, three American hikers on vacation near an unmarked border in northern Iraq were taken into custody by Iranian guards. Two of the hikers, Josh Fattal of Elkins Park and Shane Bauer of Minnesota, are still being held and are awaiting a second session of their trial for illegal entry and espionage. Sarah Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, was released in September. Except for three brief phone calls and one visit, family members have been denied contact with the hikers. June 4 marks Fattal's second birthday spent in Tehran's Evin prison. As she does every day, his mother, Laura Fattal, wrote him a letter:
Happy 29th Birthday! I love you and know we are celebrating your special day as one even though we are being kept apart once again.
It's hard to believe that the last time I saw you and hugged you was May 21 last year, before the doors of the elevator closed on you and Shane in that hotel where we spent so little time together in Tehran. You were taken back to the small cell you share with Shane in Evin prison, and I was driven to the airport and put on a plane. It was the most painful moment of my life.
Dad and I have bought you a birthday card with a picture of Gandhi, your hero, and a new book about the famed folklorist Alan Lomax. You should be getting the book shortly and a long letter that I wrote you for your birthday. We're waiting to give you the card when you come home, as we waited last year. I hope you get the letter because I was troubled to learn that you and Shane had to hunger strike for 17 days earlier this year when your jailers stopped bringing you our letters.
I did not bring you a birthday card or a gift when I came to Tehran last year because I wanted to believe we would return home together before you turned 28. Yet, more than a year has passed since then. I have kept a piece of your chocolate birthday cake from last year in the freezer along with lots of holiday foods for you to enjoy; when you come home, as I know you shall, you will not have missed a beat.
Grandma turned 85 seven months ago, but she's also waiting for you to celebrate. Just as they did last year, she and Grandpa have sent us a birthday card and gift for you. They're waiting at the house, unopened, for your return.
I was so sorry to miss your call two weeks ago, but Dad told me all about it. Thanks so much for remembering our wedding anniversary when you spoke to him. It's just awful that you and Shane have been allowed only three short calls home in 22 months.
Today, our whole family is on hunger strike in solidarity with you. Even Grandma is fasting. So are many of your friends, including your old colleagues at the Aprovecho Center in Oregon. Hundreds of people around the world have joined a rolling hunger strike we started last month with Shane's family and Sarah because they, like us, are angry and frustrated by your arbitrary and unjust imprisonment.
Dearest Josh, I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for you and Shane to spend 23 hours of every day locked in a tiny cell, allowed out only to walk blindfolded down a corridor for a brief exercise period in an open-air room with bars on the ceiling, blocking your view of the sky. But I also know that you have always had great inner strength and resilience and that you and Shane will come home.
I also want you to know that the chorus of voices calling for your release grows by the day. Last week, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi, who spent 100 days in Evin, joined our hunger strike. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Islam, Mairead Maguire, Mia Farrow, Denis Hayes, Ingrid Betancourt and many, many others are demanding your freedom because they know that you and Shane are being punished only for your citizenship.
Dad and your brother Alex are both holding up. Dad gets on with work and Alex spends almost all his time on the campaign to bring you and Shane home. Last week, he took a few days out to go whale-watching on Puget Sound with Uncle Fred. He breathed in the sweet smell of freedom for you, too.
As for me, I think back to the family trip we took to Yellowstone National Park to celebrate your high school graduation in 2000. Do you remember it? We were on a steep, rocky trail in a beautiful forest and saw a sign that read "Beware of bears." We'd earlier seen mother bears with their cubs, and it occurs to me now that there is no instinct more powerful than that of a mother protecting her offspring. I picture you as a child, laughing and running at the birthday parties we would organize for you in the park in the early summer heat. And I remember that however many birthdays come round, you are still my baby and that I want you to run free again more than anything in the world.
All my love, all the time,
Chat live with Laura Fattal
at 1 p.m. Monday at