A Letter to My Brother, Still Imprisoned in Iran

10/11/2010 10:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Alex Fattal Assistant Professor at Penn State, Department of Film-Video and Media Studies

On July 31, 2009, my brother Josh Fattal was arrested by Iranian soldiers with his close friends Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer while they were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan near the poorly marked border with Iran. When Sarah was released last month, leaving Josh and Shane behind in Evin Prison and feeling only "one-third free", I held back tears when she told me how often and how fondly Josh had spoken about me. But when she revealed that my letters to Josh had not reached him for three months, the tears tumbled from my eyes. Throughout this seemingly endless ordeal, my letters have been my only connection to my brother. Now, for no reason, they too have been stopped.

For 437 days, Iran has tried to isolate Josh and Shane from the people who love them. In all that time, they have seen their mothers just once, when they allowed to visit them briefly last May. They have been allowed to make only one phone call home (which I missed). They have seen their Iranian lawyer only once -- when they were indicted last month on the outlandish charge of espionage. Their treatment is at odds with Iranian law and international conventions. They have sat in their cell for more than a year without being questioned and without anything that resembles due process. Their investigators, like the rest of the world, know they are innocent. These are the facts. They seem to matter little.

Josh and Shane, who has also not received letters from his sisters for three months, are now cut off from their siblings as well. But Josh's jailers can never separate us in spirit. I hope that this open letter to Josh will spread through the blogosphere and penetrate the stone walls of Evin Prison to reach him like the prayers and love of people across the globe who yearn for Josh and Shane to be free.


Dear Josh,

I love you and I miss you. I took a hike of my own last weekend in the Shenandoah National Park. For three hours I hiked uphill to a rock that offered a sweeping panorama of the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I looked down on birds gliding above trees whose leaves were beginning to die gracefully. One precocious tree had already turned red, but most were only starting their seasonal shift from green to orange to brown. In my mind, you were sitting next to me. I reached out and put one arm around your shoulder and, with the other, pointed out the red tree in the distance.

That red tree had its own sense of time. In a way, you and I are also living with a peculiar sense of time. If your days are empty vats that you struggle to fill with your creativity and discipline and with the blessing of Shane's friendship, my days are tightly packed boxes of endless activity as we work for your freedom and filled with the support of Shane and Sarah's families. Mom and Dad continue to be hopeful and have faith in truth and reason but each day that passes wears on us more uncomfortably that the last. We are tired but determined.

Sarah has been a tremendously graceful, articulate and poised advocate for your freedom. Your friends, from Cottage Grove, Oregon to New Delhi, India have banded together with Shane and Sarah's friends and thousands of people who have never met you to call for your freedom. The Secretary General of the United Nations and other world leaders have called for your freedom. Everyone, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to a homeless woman in San Francisco understands that your freedom has been denied too long. We hope and pray that Iran's leaders will soon recognize the same.

When Sarah said you got to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in prison I immediately ordered it on Netflix and was deeply moved by it. The way time was twisted in knots and affected relationships struck a chord. Do you remember when Benjamin returns home from his adventures as a young man? Getting younger, he reflects, "It's a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realize what's changed is you."

I heard that and asked myself how this experience is changing you. Sarah has said she is "bruised but not broken." I am sure it will be the same for you and Shane too. I just want to give you a huge hug and know that it's true, know that you too are coming home and that the nightmare is over.

Hang in there!