Hikers Imprisoned In Iran Getting Houston Support Tomorrow

Ben Felleman is hoping that the vigil he is hosting this Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of his cousin Josh Fattal's arrest and imprisonment in Iran's infamous Evin Prison is canceled: "I would be thrilled to get that call that could transform the event from a vigil into a celebration party."

Felleman's family and supporters are holding vigils in thirty cities this Saturday and asking for a moment of silence at 1:33 p.m., the actual time that Fattal and his friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested by Iranian police while hiking in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Since July 31st, 2009, the mothers of the three young American college graduates -- who never imagined going hiking would lead to being accused of espionage by Iran -- have had one phone call and two thirty-minute meetings a total of 10 hours of visits over two days with their children.

"President Ahmadinejad's promise of 'maximum leniency and compassion' has clearly not come to pass," Felleman told Hair Balls, referring to the one phone call the three hikers were allowed to make, while being held without due process for an entire year.

Masoud Shafii, the Iranian lawyer retained by the family, has also not been allowed to meet or have any contact with his three clients.

According to the website created by the family, freethehikers.org, Fattal was a Teaching Fellow with the International Honors Program and completed study-abroad programs in Switzerland, India, China, South Africa, UK, Mexico, India, the Phillipines, and New Zealand.

"The espionage accusations are ridiculous. It's absurd to even think about it. These are world-travelers who simply got lost," Felleman says, adding that there are now two eyewitnesses who can attest to the innocence of his cousin and his friends.

He's referring to a July 12 article in The Nation that says while the three hikers were on the Iraqi side of the mountain range, they were threatened and forced to cross into Iran by Iranian national police.

Felleman said no one deserves unjust detainment and visibly choked up while telling of getting that phone call from his dad and being told his cousin Josh on the cover of the New York Times. "The State Department hadn't yet released the names, but there he was and yet I was still in total disbelief," he said.

Petitioning President Ahmadinejad for the return of their children has become a full-time job for his aunt and the other two mothers, said Felleman. 

Also on the job are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  who has met with Falleman's aunt, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire, among many others.

As of today, The Free the Hikers page on Facebook is "liked" by 15, 941 and donations coming in through freethehikers.org are helping towards the travel expenses of the mothers as they continue to raise awareness via media appearances.

Felleman shares of how moved the family was to receive a donation from a Beaumont church, of how someone donated their time and translation skills to help draft communications in Farsi.

At Evin, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer share a cell and have told family they read and exercise to keep sane. Sara Shourd, who has suffered from depression and other unspecified health concerns in the past, is permitted to visit with her fiancee (Bauer) and friend for a period of thirty minutes twice a day. She spends the other 23 hours in solitary confinement.

This Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of their incarceration. Enough is enough, said Felleman.

"A lot of media will turn the vigil into a politicized event, but that's not what this is. We only ask that they're released. Release them. They're not political pawns. They're young college grads who as sure as hell are not spies," he says.

Houston's vigil will be held at the Taft Street Coffee Art Center at 2115 Taft St. this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Lee Alexander and Henry Darragh, both nominated for Houston Press Music Awards, will perform.

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