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Freed hikers cheer 'Occupy' movement, plead for prisoners' rights

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Mon October 17, 2011
  • NEW: Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd speak at a rally in Oakland
  • NEW: They say they support California inmates protesting policies in state prisons
  • NEW: Fattal describes the "Occupy" movement as "totally inspiring"
  • Rally is one of many events that are part of larger Occupy Wall Street movement

(CNN) -- Three Americans freed after being held in Iran lent their support Monday to the now-global Occupy movement, applauding its participants' idealism and activism while making a specific point to protest what they call the harsh treatment of state prisoners in California.

The pleas in California from Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd to their hometown Occupy Oakland crowd supporting scores of prisoners on hunger strikes signify the wide breadth of issues -- and, critics may say, lack of focus -- being addressed by the movement. The trio, who said they experienced long-term solitary confinement in Iran -- called California's approach to such confinement especially egregious.

The state Department of Corrections said last week that a three-week hunger strike by inmates had ended. But Fattal -- who announced he'd gone on a symbolic 24-hour fast to show solidarity with the California inmates -- said Monday that 150 prisoners remained on a hunger strike.

"The only way to be heard is to threaten that you're going to die. This is crazy," said Bauer, who like Fattal spent 26 months mostly alone in cramped cells before being released last month. "If people here are supporting (the California prisoners), they are going to feel it."

The three Americans also cheered the Occupy movement, which began 31 days ago in Lower Manhattan not long before the two men were released by Iranian authorities. It has since grown into an international movement, despite its lack of obvious leadership or a single, unifying message.

How long can the Occupy movement sustain itself?

"Forever in my heart and my mind, those two (events, the release of Fattal and Bauer from Iran and the Occupy movement) will be linked," Shourd, who spent 14 months inside an Iranian prison, told the audience in front of Oakland's City Hall. "To have this incredibly powerful movement building at the same time was so healing, and it continues to be so healing."

Fattal said he had gone to the original home of Occupy Wall Street in New York soon after returning to the United States, describing the burgeoning movement as "totally inspiring."

Especially in New York, demonstrators have typically railed against what they describe as corporate greed, arrogance and power, as well as repeatedly stated their assertion that the nation's wealthiest 1% held inordinate sway over the remaining 99% of the population. But as in northern California, other issues have also periodically taken center stage -- including against the U.S.-led military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and disappointment with the political dynamic in Washington.

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The movement has drawn criticism from some politicians who have characterized it as counterproductive, jumbled and misguided. Others, though, have lent their support and said the protesters are voicing legitimate, widespread frustrations regarding the current economic and political situation.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, poll respondents in New York City said by 67% to 23% that they agree with demonstrators' views. That survey, which was of 1,068 registered voters, has a sampling error of plus or minus 3%.

Meanwhile, Seattle police arrested six men and one woman who refused orders to remove their tents from city-owned Westlake Park, police spokesman Mark Jamieson told CNN. Three of those men were jailed for obstruction and resisting arrest, said Jamieson. The other four were charged with obstruction and subsequently released.

Most of the others asked to move voluntarily had complied, according to the Seattle police department's website.

A potential confrontation in Atlanta was averted Monday -- for now, at least -- when Mayor Kasim Reed extended an executive order, allowing demonstrators in that city to remain in city-owned Woodruff Park through November 7.

Elsewhere, over the weekend Supreme Court Police in Washington, D.C., arrested 19 people, a spokeswoman said.

Another 14 people were arrested Sunday in New York for violating a midnight curfew by sitting in a fountain with no water at Washington Square Park. The number was in addition to 78 arrested Saturday in citywide protests.

And in Chicago, a police spokesman said there were "multiple" arrests early Sunday for disorderly conduct and violating an 11 p.m. curfew.

Movement organizers say they are inspired by the Arab Spring that led to the toppling of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

First spreading around the United States, like-minded protests have more recently sprouted up overseas --- including a global day of demonstrations Saturday in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia.

CNN's Deanna Proeller contributed to this report.

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