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Family of detained hikers in Iran take case to UN

By Mick B. Krever, CNN
  • Families of hikers detained in Iran meet with secretary-general
  • Mothers are hunger-striking in solidarity with their sons
  • Third hiker, who was allowed to go after 13 months, calls out for release

United Nations (CNN) -- With their loved ones' trial less than a month away, the families of two American hikers detained in Iran for two years took their appeal Thursday to the United Nations.

A day after meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the families of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer appealed for their release in a press conference held at UN headquarters.

"Holding two innocent people in prison due to their nationality is unconscionable," Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer but released after more than 13 months, said.

In a private meeting, Ban told the families that the two Americans' detention was "totally unacceptable," according to Laura Fattal, Josh's mother. "He promised to continue to urge Iran to finally live up to its promises of justice and compassion, and release Josh and Shane immediately and unconditionally," she said.

The mothers have been holding a hunger strike for several days to stand in solidarity with their sons.

"I want my son home, and that's the main reason I'm hunger-striking," Cindy Hickey, Shane Bauer's mother, said.

A court date has been set for July 31, Fattal and Bauer's Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafii, told CNN last week. A previous hearing had been set for May 11 but the two men were never brought to court. No explanation was given by the Iranian authorities.

"We are praying that the next hearing will mean freedom at last for Shane and Josh, because there is no justification for them to be in jail," Hickey said, breaking into tears.

The mothers have had limited contact with their sons, and have not spoken since last October. But Hickey said that during a three-minute conversation she had with her son he told her that they had fasted 17 days for the right to receive letters and books, which had been inexplicably revoked.

"It's the only recourse you have to protest your conditions," Shourd explained. "And Shane and Josh's conditions are deplorable."

Alex Fattal, Josh's brother, said that the two had been physically and psychologically abused, and subjected to sexual harassment.

Shourd said that hunger strikes were a tactic the three had used often. During their first strike, to protest being put in separate cells, they stopped eating for six days.

"I could barely walk across the room without having to sit down," she said. "I have no idea how Shane and Josh could have gotten through 17 days without taking any sustenance whatsoever."

The press conference was hosted by the UN Correspondents Association.

Bauer, Fattal, and Shourd were arrested by Iranian police while hiking in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. They have been charged with espionage and illegally crossing into Iran.

Shourd said that they had been assured by many locals, as well as friends living in the area, that the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan were completely safe. There were many Iraqi tourists hiking in the area on the day they were arrested, she said, and the hikers were unaware of how close to the Iranian border they were.

"Northern Iraq -- Iraqi Kurdistan -- is often referred to as the 'other Iraq,' because it is a safe place and it has a burgeoning tourist industry," she said. "We, unfortunately, were given the wrong impression."