American Hikers Held In Iran Allowed To Call Home For Third Time

05/23/2011 09:19 am ET | Updated Jul 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Two American hikers held in Iran on espionage charges were allowed to phone home Sunday for only the third time since they were arrested on the Iraqi Kurdistan border more than 21 months ago, according to a statement from their families.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal told their families that they had staged a 17-day hunger strike after the guards at Iran's Evin Prison stopped them from receiving letters.

The two men, both 28, hadn't spoken to relatives for nearly six months when they were given a few minutes to place calls over the weekend.

Bauer, a freelance journalist, spoke with his mother, Cindy Hickey. He was unable to reach his fiance, Sarah Shourd, who had been arrested with the two men on July 31, 2009 and was released in September after 14 months in captivity.

Fattal, an environmental activist, got through to his father, Jacob.

Both calls were shorter than five minutes.

The mothers of the hikers announced their own hunger strike last week in solidarity with their sons. Their action followed the unexplained postponement of a May 11 court date. Shourd, 32, who is suffering from PTSD and refused to return to Tehran for the hearing in which she was also to face espionage charges, took over the hunger strike from the two older women on Saturday.

"As much as we welcome the calls after six months of silence, they have by no means lessened our concern for Shane and Josh and their mental welfare in light of their awful isolation," the hikers' families said in a statement. "While Shane and Josh sounded reasonably well, we learned that they had to stage a 17-day hunger strike earlier this year because they were not being allowed to get the letters we send them every day.

"Their inhumane treatment has to end with their immediate release. The people responsible for their unjustified imprisonment are bringing shame on Iran by continuing to hold Shane and Josh without due process and for no legitimate reason."

More than 200 people have joined the rolling hunger strike in support of the two men. Among them are Indian spiritualist Deepak Chopra and former North Korean detainee and journalist Laura Ling.