"They Won't Listen To Me:" Captive Sarah Shourd's Ordeal
**BREAKING NEWS, 9 September 2010: Sources inside Iran are saying they will release one of the three hikers on Saturday. It is most likely Sarah Shourd.**
It’s a moment every woman fears: finding a lump in her breast.
Now imagine enduring that moment while in a solitary prison cell in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Sarah Shourd just observed the first anniversary of her capture and imprisonment by Iran and her 31st birthday. During her year in captivity, she has suffered serious gynecological problems and battled depression.
And now, her breast.
Sarah, along with her fiance Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, were arrested by Iranian authorities on July 31, 2009 while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan during a summer holiday from her teaching job in Damascus, Syria.
While the Iranians claims they crossed the border, an investigation by The Nation published earlier this summer found Kurdish eyewitnesses who say the three were spotted by NAJA, the Iranian national police force, as they descended a mountain path inside the Iraqi border.
These eyewitnesses told a reporter that NAJA officers beckoned them to cross the border using “menacing” gestures, and when the three refused to comply, the officers fired shots into the air. When the hikers continued to hesitate, the Iranians walked into Iraq and took them by force.
The Iranians have accused them of espionage and threatened to try them as spies, but in the last year have presented no evidence and have made no moves to bring them to trial.
Instead, they seem to be holding them -- in defiance of their own laws and international treaties to which they are signatories -- as bargaining chips, hinting that the three might be freed as part of a prisoner exchange or nuclear negotiation.
As the back-door diplomatic dance has dragged on, Sarah, Shane and Josh have remained at Evin Prison. Shane and Josh share a cell, but Sarah is kept in a solitary cell 23 hours a day.
Twice a day, for about 30 minutes at a time, they are allowed to spend some time together. Other than that, she is alone in a small room, with a window at the top that lets in a little light but does not allow her to see outside. She pushes a button when she needs to br taken to the bathroom.
They have been allowed to meet with Swiss consular representatives (Switzerland being our proxy in Iran, with whom we have had no formal diplomatic relationship since 1979) on two occasions. They have never been allowed to speak to a lawyer. In May, their mothers were permitted to meet with them for several hours over two days. It was during that visit that Sarah showed her mother, a nurse, the lump in her breast.
The three have been allowed to make just a couple of phone calls home over the last year. Sarah was permitted one of those rare calls to her mother, Nora, on Monday. She had just two or three minutes, but it was long enough to tell her mother that her requests for both medical care and a cellmate have been denied. “They won't listen to me," she said.
“Sarah has two possible sites for cancer now,” Nora says, referring to precancerous cervical cells discovered in her single exam earlier in her captivity. “and they are both being ignored.”
Nora recently petitioned the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to intercede with Iranian authorities to at least permit her daughter a cellmate.
"Torture takes many forms and it is widely recognized that protracted solitary confinement constitutes 'invisible' psychological torture, especially in a case like Sarah's when the detainee does not know why she is being held or what will happen to her," Mrs. Shourd tells reporters. "Sarah's treatment is cruel, inhuman and degrading and Iran has been deaf to all my appeals, including for the results of the only medical tests Sarah had five months ago."
The UN is considering the request.
To learn more about Sarah, Shane and Josh and effort to free them, visit http://freethehikers.org/
For an earlier post on the hikers, written to mark their 100th day of captivity, click here. Today is Day 377.