Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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AUGUST 12, 2010 8:12AM

"They Won't Listen To Me:" Captive Sarah Shourd's Ordeal

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**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.


Sarah and Shane in Happier Days

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.

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Captivity is bad enough. In Evin? Horrific. Having health problems on top of it? Unimaginable. Clearly the three are being held as bargaining chips as long as the Ahmadinejad administration thinks they are valuable.
Nora Shourd has an interview in the Denver Post today with some more details of the call:

rated with extreme sadness.
I thank you for keeping us informed about this awful situation. I hope they are all set free soon (Josh is from my neighborhood), the whole situation is so sad! R
Could be worse. Omar Khadr's been in GITMO since he was 15 years old. At least Sarah, Shane and Josh haven't been beaten or threatened with being raped.
This is outrageous and very, very upsetting. Thanks for the post. I was unaware of Ms. Shroud's situation.
Thank you, everyone, for your comments.

I wanted to share this link about what Sarah, Shane and Josh's moms are doing to win their release:


And not just the moms. I've read that Josh Fattal's brother stopped work on his dissertation and took a leave of absence from school to assist in lobbying for their release. All three families hold teleconferences 3-5 times a week and are in constant email and phone contact.

"The frustration you feel accumulates. The powerlessness, all that stuff accumulates," says Nora Shourd. "We're all so overwhelmed by the intensity of the work it takes to do this. We can't just keep doing this. But of course we're going to."
Their in my thoughts and prayers.. it is an adventure to see new climates, cultures and experience the deep true nature that we have on mother earth, but we also should use this vital situation that occurred as a lesson for all who like to tread where no man has tread before. Many adventurous people travel near and far to climb the tops of the highest mountains or see the wonders of world with out the knowledge of the danger that can also lie in the mist of these places.. we have to have a clear understanding of what the dangers are or what could or could not occur on the adventures that many of us have attempted. ..it is sad that for one they did not get to finish their adventurous mission into the mountain, two that they are suffering horribly in a confined cell , third that she has a serious health issue that is not being cared for and forth they are still not free... God be with them and watch over them. ~ Blessing always, Jennifer
This a severe indictment of the current administration that shows such weakness that they cannot even demand and receive back imprisoned Americans from the thugs in Iran. It's disgraceful. If Iran thought of America as strong they would never be holding these three hikers. The politics of peace and of apologies and kissing ass lead directly to their current situation. Tragic.
i do feel bad for them and have no respect for iran.

then again there have been a few cases like this lately.

i have to ask myself; if i'm smart enough to avoid certin parts of Detroit then why the hell did being on the iran/iraq border sound like a good idea?
It's hideous. I do remember that among the original "hostages" taken in 1979, was a certain Richard Queen, who was released "early" because he had been diagnosed with MS.

I do hope that the Iranians will see the light soon, and release all THREE from their captivity. But especially Sarah, whose solitary confinement is certainly "cruel and unusual" punishment. God Bless them, and keep them safe.
UPDATE: Just saw a tweet from @freethehikers Twitter feed that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture HAS sent an Urgent Appeal to the Iranians on behalf of Sarah Shourd.

This does not guarantee that Sarah will be better treated, but this is a battle of increments, and every advance helps.
How are these 3 people NOT CIA stooges? Anything else is inconceivable. Who do you know who goes pleasure hiking along the border between two countries that hate Americans (Iraq and Iran)?

These three people are CIA stooges.