Iran's Physical Abuse and Psychological Torture Needs to Stop

06/13/2011 12:41 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011
  • Alex Fattal Assistant Professor at Penn State, Department of Film-Video and Media Studies

Last week, our families published information that has been gnawing away at us for many months: my brother Josh and his friend Shane Bauer have been beaten while in Evin Prison in Iran and feared that they would be executed shortly after their arrest nearly 23 months ago. Shane and Josh have endured long stretches of solitary confinement, no access to their lawyer, and almost no contact with their families during their 682 days in jail. As if all that were not punishment enough for crimes they never committed, they world now knows that Shane and Josh have suffered physical abuse and psychological torture as well.

Sarah Shourd, Shane's fiancée and Josh's close friend, shared the details of this abuse with our families some time after she was released from 410 days of solitary confinement on payment of $500,000 bail last September. For a long time, I had buried this troubling knowledge away in a place where I would not have to think about it. But sharing it with the world has forced me to try to imagine what it must be like for Shane and Josh in their darkness and isolation. It feels like a kick in the chest. To imagine Josh being forced down a flight of stairs, to imagine him shaking in fear for his life, and to imagine Shane being slammed repeatedly against the wall of their cell makes me angry and sick.

If there's anything at all redeemable about what has happened to Josh and Shane, it is the awareness of their unbreakable commitment to each other. Josh was pushed down a flight of stairs by a guard who got angry with him for taking extra food on the way back to his cell one day. Shane and Sarah were separated from Josh and thrown back into their cells, where they began pounding on their doors and screaming. The same guard who had got angry with Josh came into the cell Shane shares with him and began slamming him against the wall, time and time again. When Sarah first told me about Shane screaming out, "Where's Josh! Tell me, where's Josh!" as the guard continued his assault, it confirmed what I already felt, that Shane is like a brother. To know that he would take a savage beating to the point of having the back of his head bleed to stand up for Josh is touching beyond words. I'm not surprised Shane is made of such mettle. As we work for Josh and Shane's release, my family has come to know the stock Shane comes from and the values he grew with. His family has been inspiring.

Shane, Josh and Sarah have defended each other since the moment they were taken by Iranian guards on the unmarked border with Kurdistan, a relatively peaceful and semi-autonomous region of Iraq where they were hiking behind a mountain waterfall during a vacation together. A few days into their captivity, they feared they would be killed when a soldier escorting them on a nighttime ride to an unknown location began cocking his weapon. Now Shane and Josh have only each other, God and their courageous lawyer, Mr. Masoud Shafii (who is still being denied his right to see them).

Iran remains deaf to the calls of people such as Muhammad Ali, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ela Gandhi, Mairead Maguire, Jose Ramos-Horta, Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens) and many, many others around the world. Why the people in Iran responsible for denying Josh and Shane their freedom are intent on embarrassing their own country is unclear. It can only be because they view my brother and Shane as backgammon chips in some political game they have nothing to do with. They need to be taken off the board: enough is enough!

Last week, I marked Josh's second birthday in prison with his friends and colleagues in rural Oregon. It was a somber occasion to say the least. Shane, and everybody who loves him, will be marking his second birthday in prison on July 13. Let us hope that Iran will have come to its senses long before then and that Shane will be celebrating his freedom with Josh, Sarah, our families and all the other people who love them.