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For U.S. hikers, two years in Iranian prison is long enough

By Laura Ling, Special to CNN
Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal, center, sit with an unidentified interpreter in Tehran on February 6.
Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal, center, sit with an unidentified interpreter in Tehran on February 6.
  • Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been imprisoned in Iran for almost two years
  • Laura Ling and a colleague were held almost five months in North Korea
  • Ling: I'm joining rolling hunger strike on behalf of the two U.S. hikers still in Iran
  • "I know how frightened Shane and Josh must feel," Ling writes

Editor's note: Laura Ling is a reporter and host of "E! Investigates." She is co-author of "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home."

(CNN) -- My heart aches for American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who have been imprisoned in Iran for almost two years.

During that time, they have been allowed only three phone calls and one visit with their families. On July 31, 2009, Bauer, Fattal and friend Sarah Shourd were hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan when they were detained by Iranian border forces for allegedly crossing into Iran illegally.

After 14 months behind bars, Shourd was released on $500,000 bail.

Bauer and Fattal have pleaded not guilty to charges of espionage and illegal entry, but they have not had an opportunity to defend themselves. Their last court date scheduled for May 11 was postponed for no reason.

They have never once been able to meet with their attorney. Meanwhile, the young men have been left to languish together in a 10-by-14-foot prison cell.

I know how frightened Shane and Josh must feel as they await an uncertain fate -- one that could result in the death penalty. Nearly two years ago, my colleague Euna Lee, and I faced a similar situation.

American hikers' families hopeful
2010: Sarah Shourd: 'I still feel numb'

We were in northeastern China working on a documentary about the trafficking of North Korean women into China when North Korean soldiers apprehended us. They violently dragged us into the so-called Hermit Kingdom where we were eventually charged with trespassing and hostile acts.

While we were subjected to a harrowing interrogation and trial process that was different from what we in the United States might consider just, we were fortunate to have been granted amnesty after nearly five months in captivity.

Like many areas along the border separating China and North Korea, the boundaries between Iraq and Iran are porous and unmarked.

There are no signs or fences to indicate where one territory ends and another begins. World leaders, diplomats and others have spoken out in the hikers' defense. In a written statement, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said, "There is no evidence to support the charges against them."

Shane and Josh have been living in a bleak, unpredictable state of limbo.

Two years is long enough for them to have been isolated and separated from their loved ones without due process of law.

This week, I will be joining their families, friends and supporters in a "rolling hunger strike" as a show of solidarity to the hikers and in hopes that the government of Iran will show its compassion by releasing the young men on humanitarian grounds.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Laura Ling.

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