Help the Hikers

07/28/2011 06:16 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2011

A deadline is looming for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the American hikers imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage and illegal entry into Iran. The University of California, Berkeley graduates are scheduled for a final hearing in an Iranian court on Sunday, July 31st and their friends and families are asking for your help. No one, probably not even the Iranians, believe that they are spies.

In case you don't know the story: Bauer, Fattal and Bauer's Fiancée Sarah Shourd, were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan two years ago when they were detained somewhere along the Iran border. The verdant, mountainous region is known as a destination for hiking and outdoor adventure. It is not a war zone.

The friends may have accidentally strayed into Iranian territory along the unmarked border, or Iranian forces might have crossed into Kurdistan to arrest them. That part of the story is not clear. The three hikers were imprisoned for more than a year before they were informed of the charges against them. Shortly thereafter, in September of 2010, Sarah Shourd was released on humanitarian grounds. The men remain in Iran's Evin prison and, if convicted, could face many more years there. Not a fun fate.

When I first heard about the detained hikers I thought, "What the heck were they doing there in the first place?" I assumed (wrongly, it's a relatively safe and touristy part of Iraq) that they were naive and foolish to be hiking in that part of the world, but I certainly didn't believe they were spies. I doubt Iran really believes that either.

Living in the Bay Area it's fairly common to know people like Sarah, Shane and Josh. The proliferation of non-profits, NGOs, tech companies and media outlets, means that the area is crawling with idealistic, change-the-world types. If you threw an organic heirloom tomato through the Ferry Building farmers' market, the odds are high that you'd hit someone who spent her vacation mountain biking in Rwanda, surfing in Honduras or hiking in Cambodia. These three hikers could easily be our friends or neighbors. Rarer, however, are humanitarians who sacrifice the comforts of home and a familiar culture to make the world a better place. Sarah, Shane and Josh, however, "walk the walk."

Sarah, who is now free and living the Bay Area, is a teacher. At the time of her capture she was a on a short vacation from her job teaching Iraqi refugee children in Damascus, Syria.
Her fiancé Shane is a freelance photo-journalist whose work has been featured the Christian Science Monitor and The Nation, among other publications. He was not on assignment while traveling in Kurdistan. Josh is an environmental and health activist and educator whose work took him all over the globe.

Here's what we can do to help these American citizens.

Demonstrate: On Friday, July 29th there will be a "2 Years Is Too Long" demonstration on behalf of Shane and Josh outside the Iranian Mission to the UN in New York City.

Call: The San Francisco Bay Area supporters of Shane and Josh are hosting a call-in blitz. I initially called the Iranian Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Washington D.C. and, respectfully, expressed my support for Shane and Josh. The phone number is (202) 965-4990. The operator, however, instructed me to call the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, which I did. That operator seemed in a hurry to get me off the phone, but I got my message out. That number is (212) 687-2020.

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