Please Release Our Children

Anxious, worried but still hopeful their children will be released soon


Please Release Our Children
by Fariba Amini

One evening last week at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I met Alex Fattal. I saw pain on his face, as he came up to me. A nice, kind young man, he told me who he was. I learned that he is the brother of Josh Fattal who, along with two of his friends, was on a hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan before they were arrested by the Iranian authorities. This was in July, now it is February, and they are still in prison. Evin: Where else? The mothers and the families of Shane, Josh and Sarah have had no direct contact with their loved ones. No phone calls, nothing. They remain anxious, worried but still hopeful that they will be released soon. It’s been a long excruciating six months. In a statement released in August 2009 by the fourth hiker, Shon, who, due to illness, had not joined his friends on the trip: “I hope that people understand my friends' presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake.”

Mother of Shane, Cindy: “Shane has a major in Peace and Conflict Studies in addition to his minors of Arabic and Journalism degrees. What is important is that Shane is a compassionate human being who never intended to enter into Iran and who means no ill will to anyone.

Shane talked about this trip with me and his family for weeks before. He said it had been recommended by friends and it was safe. Sarah only had a week off of her teaching job so this was scheduled to be a short trip. It is heartbreaking not to have any contact with Shane and to have no independent verification of his condition for over three months.

I feel helpless at times. I ask the Iranian authorities to please end this nightmare for us and release our children. This situation has taken its toll on our family. We continue to plea that this be treated as a humanitarian case and kept separate from any politics. We are a family; we are not involved in politics.”

Mother of Sarah, Nora: “My daughter Sarah was born in Oak Park, Illinois. She graduated from Cleveland High School in Encino, California. In 1999, Sarah moved north and attended the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with degree in English Literature. She taught English as a second language there. She and Shane decided to live in the Middle East, to further her Arabic studies and learn more about the culture and its people; as she would say: ‘people just like us.’ She and Shane had been living in Damascus, Syria for a year. She had a teaching position at the American Language School there and was on a brief vacation when they both went to Kurdistan for a respite from the city to a place recommended by their friends as one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

“We ask the Iranian government to be just and compassionate towards our beloved children. They have been punished enough by the prolonged detention and we, as families have been punished along with them. Please make the ultimate magnanimous gesture behooving the greatness of your country and release them to their families.”

The Mother of Josh, Laura, tells the full story:

What happened? How did they end up in Iran?

Josh, Shane and Sarah were on a one-week vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan. They left Damascus on July 28th where Shane and Sarah were living for the past year and Sarah was teaching English. They traveled north from Damascus to enter Iraq and visited the Kurdish cities of Arbil and Sulemaniyah. They slept in Sulemaniyah on July 29th and then hired a driver on July 30th to take them to Ahmad Awa. At 1:33pm on July 31, they were arrested in the unmarked border area of Ahmad Awa in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Don’t you think it was dangerous to even go to the area? Were they not told?

Shon Meckfessel, the fourth hiker who was sick the day before Josh, Shane and Sarah traveled to Ahmad Awa, stayed in Sulemaniyah on July 30th. Shane called Shon at 1:33pm on July 31 to tell him to call the US Embassy in Baghdad to alert them that Josh, Shane and Sarah were surrounded by Iranian authorities. Shon and Shane had been researching areas of Iraqi Kurdistan to hike and vacation in before the trip. Friends had told them that the mountains and waterfalls in this area are just beautiful and picturesque. They did not think it would be dangerous and in any case they had no intention of going to Iran.

What was the reason being given for their arrest?

I don’t know and I don’t understand. The Iranian government officials said because the hikers entered the Iranian border illegally. But nothing was marked and the hikers had no intention to go into Iran. They were just young people who were off from work and wanting to explore a beautiful area before going back to Damascus.

Have you been in touch with any one of them since their arrest? Do you know what their condition is at this point?

None of us have had direct contacts with them. We know that the Swiss ambassador visited them on two occasions once on September 29th and October 29th for about one hour. They had been held in solitary but moved since. I believe they are in ward 209. We were told that they seemed to be in good health. But as you can imagine no Iranian or American mother wants to hear that their child is in captivity. It is particularly disturbing that our children have had no access to their lawyer.

Have you tried to get visas to go to Iran? What is the reply from the IRI officials?

We have not heard anything if our visas have been approved. Officially, it takes a month and as you can imagine we are eager and waiting to hear back. It would be a great relief for us to see our kids after six months of no communication at all with them.

What is your plea to the Iranian government?

We are asking that Josh, Shane and Sarah be released on humanitarian grounds. We ask for mercy and kindness. We want to see our children back home. Six months detainment is punishment enough for any alleged unmarked border crossing. We know that Iranians are compassionate people and I personally have great respect for your nation.

What are you asking ordinary citizens and governments to do?

We want people to write to Josh, Shane and Sarah. We want people to hold vigils and make YouTube videos. We want the international community to come to our defense and ask the Iranian government to release our children so that they can come home to us. We want compassion from religious leaders. Josh, Shane and Sarah are just ordinary young adults who were exploring the world. They are caring individuals. This is a humanitarian issue unrelated to global politics.

For a full story and how to help visit:


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more from Fariba Amini
Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on

what an american will think of you as a neighbor J & S ?

I bet you both of them live in the West probably the US. They are likely well behaved when dealing with Americans. They keep the vitriol and anger for us. If they went around acting like this towards Americans they would have consequences to deal with. 

Here I go generalizing: Iranians in the West tend to be very well behaved. We are used to having our *** kicked if we get out of line. So we tend to be good citizens.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Bone heads not spies

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


These kids are not spies they are boneheads. I feel mostly for their parents who have to put up with them and bail them out of trouble. Of course they should be released. But where is their sense?

I tell you as a parent if my kids did anything like this they will be in a lot of trouble. Not from any government but from ME!! Next time they should go to Grand Canyon for hiking. 


"Why would three young

by keyvanj on

"Why would three young hikers, if they were "spies" be crossing a border in the daylight? I mean come on. Let's use some logic."

You see, that's the GENIUS of it! :-)

maziar 58

chi boodim - chi shodim

by maziar 58 on

what an american will  think of you as a neighbor J & S  ?

if you really live same as you talk here I certainly would not want to be your hamsayeh or even hamshahri. what did we become ?      just because you tit for tat ; doesn't mean it applies to every thing else.              Maziar



Watch "A Time for Drunken Horses"

by Jaleho on

the Farsi movie, "zamani barayeh masti Asb ha" to get a realistic idea of Iran-Iraq Kurdish border. The "tranquilty" won't allow your tears dry up for an hour! And, that picture of the area is common knowledge for anyone getting close there.

Let's not assume stuff that we have no idea about, (or worse advocate for what you have no idea about) neither about the Americans, nor the Iranians who are held by Americans.

What's so wrong with a tit for tat if both tit and tat are innocent or both tit and tat are guilty? Or, are you so confident that your own judgement of looks should override all matters legal?

Fariba Amini

But that is wrong.  Tit

by Fariba Amini on

But that is wrong.  Tit for Tat. 

Why would three young hikers, if they were "spies" be crossing a border in the daylight?  I mean come on.  Let's use some logic.

 The IRI is holding dozens if not hundreds in prison, this is nothing new.  This is a game they play with people's lives... and one day, very soon they would have to answer to people or to their God!


It is not for me to

by Bavafa on

It is not for me to decided if Kurdistan and Iran-Iraq border is a tranquil place or not. Each person has a different barometer for tranquility.

The fact remains that they crossed the border illegally and it is hard to know for sure if it was an all innocent adventure or more planned then public (at our level) knows. There are at least a few Iranians that are being held by Americans without any formal charge or due process and given that these two regime (IRI and USA) are at each others throat, it is logical to expect not to return them without getting some thing in return.


maziar 58

my .......

by maziar 58 on

SIR  look at your comment (you thought AN's swapping sugestion was a step in the RIGHT direction ?)

they are nuts for going with missionaries to that part of the world.

Iranian police could have done the normal illegall border crossing (crossing from hell to hell) shouldn't count as such

Or swapping a (1-2-3) regular american that don't know much about ......with an opportunist  money maker from philadelphia when he knows the american laws, or a iranian detainee in mosell,Iraq....

what did we become ? a mafia sort.

my sugestion would be; take their pictures,finger print and have them sign papers that they will not enter Iran next without a propper visa just as they do in any civilized nation       .Maziar

Sargord Pirouz


by Sargord Pirouz on

I brought it up in the context of President Ahmadinjead's proposed prisoner swap.

As such, consideration of both the Iranian and American families is relevant. Actually, in and for itself, it's relevant, too.

Do you have any worthy perspective to offer of your own? Or is all you have to offer insipid talk back? 

maziar 58

pirouz khan

by maziar 58 on

Please re-phrase your last paragraph in -the families of........

Are you seriouse ? bad +bad don't make any GOOD.

 To bring such a sugestion by it self is MORANIC.   Maziar

Sargord Pirouz

More mistakes, Fariba.

by Sargord Pirouz on

Iranians from Iran travel a lot. And many Iranian pilgrims travel to Syria to visit the holy sites. (I believe I read somewhere that Iranians make up Syria's largest tourism market.) And, of course, Iranians from Iran travel to the holy sites in iraq, Saudi Arabia and the tourist sites of Turkey by the millions. 

(No offense, but are you even familiar with Iranians inside Iran that travel frequently?)

Have you ever travelled through this area of Kurdistan, Fariba? I have. Admittedly, not recently, but from the reports I've read and viewed, the area remains  a sensitive hot zone for Iran, in terms of PJAK terror attacks and criminal smuggling operations. Given Iran's current terrorism and drug problem (to an extent, due to the ineptitude of US military occupations) can you blame Iran for heightened border security? Of course not.

"Quite a tranquil place"- don't believe the hype! 

Jeesh Daram

Iran-Iraq border "quite a tranquil place"?

by Jeesh Daram on

Yeah! If you are on hashish you will find it even more


I was touring there in Kurdistan last June (very sober and for photography with two Kurds as guides) and thanks to
IRI's consistent suppression of people of Kurdistan that
area has one of the highest unemployment in the country.  Anywhere from
Baneh to Ghasre-Shirin along the border, by day time you run into no nonsense
smugglers driving their high speed modified cars, no license plates, tinted
glasses and everyone of them armed to their teeth. They smuggle from tea and alcohol,
to flat screen TV and cameras to be sold in big cities in Iran.  The norm for all the Kurds is, that once you see a smuggler convoy coming,
you pull to the side and let them pass. That is just during the day, you
can imagine what goes on at nights.

Now, if three Iranians go to such adventure anywhere in the world, they will
be arrested as Al-Qaeda agents and Islamic terrorists. Just imagine three Iranian tourists go to Mexico and get arrested by US marshals for walking along the Rio Grande river on the US side, simply because that area is tranquil.

As for the freedom of the three, the parents should directly plea to the Iranian authorities and not to expect Hillary Clinton to do anything without additional aggrevation. The best is if they actually travel to Iran and let the Swiss embassy in Tehran get involved, that is just one idea....


Fariba Amini

Free them....all of them

by Fariba Amini on


  I'm not one to judge a

by keyvanj on


I'm not one to judge a book by its cover, but honestly those guys don't look "all there" if you know what I mean.

If you want exotic go to Vietnam, Bali, Thailand, Laos, Venezela, etc.

Probably should have had a guide or sherper keeping an eye on them, not the best idea to be "hiking" around a potentially dangerous border region that neighbours a country that has not so good relations with the country that you reside and hold citizenship with.

Often times I think that these Westerners that visit places like North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Pakistan, and even Iran, are doing it to attain some kind of "badge of honor" that they can use against their more conservatively traveled friends. "You see that guy on tv.. err..ahmadiwhatever.. I was there!! Right there! Tehran baby! Totally, I could have been killed man, seriously. Chopped up into little bits!! Naturally at this point the ladies are tearing off their clothes.. ok ok so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea, you really have to question some of their motives.

What about this guy:

Visits Iran in Dec/Jan then goes back in June (only 6 months later apparently cos we're such great people and all.. maybe he should just get citizenship?) and conveniently finds himself in the middle of a rowdy protest.. wow, he loved Iran so much that he couldn't wait a few weeks/months for things to cool down.

"When the protests erupted in June this year, he decided to go back to
Iran and see what was going on from a close distance for himself."

Darwin award anyone? 

I can't blame IRGC, mullahs etc for being paranoid. Put yourself in their smelly shoes, you'd probably be arresting every "pus safid" in sight. lol.


Fariba Amini

see the world.

by Fariba Amini on

Actually from what I have read and the comments made by several people who have traveled in recent times to the area (Kurdish-Iraq) border, it is quite a tranquil place and indeed beautiful.  just google it.

As for them traveling to areas that are "dangerous," there are many journalists, students and others who travel to far more dangerous areas. 

I know we Iranians do not like adventures and travels as much as they do in the West. We like to go to shishi places like the South of France!  But there are those who like to explore and see this world which is both beautiful and dangerous.

I wonder how many Iranians would go and study in Damascus?!!

Also, even if they crossed the border illegally, they should have been returned not held in prison for 6 months.  But that is how the IRI operates.  No government should kidnap and hold people illegally, not the US or Iran.

I recommend those who are interested to read the book by Rory Stewart called Places in Between; he traveled the whole of Afghanistan by foot. He almost died but he left and taught Human Rights at Harvard and wrote another book called Prince of Marshes.

He might become an MP soon.  He is only 36.

I had no idea there were beaches in Somalia.  I guess my geography is not as good as I thought.

Which is more dangerous, the border of US/Mexico or the Kurdish Iraqi border?



Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I agree with you. These are the kind of people who decide to go surfing in a hurricane.  They get themselves in trouble that any sane person could predict. Then much money and time has to be spent to get them out so they can do the next silly thing.

In all fariness they illegaly crossed Iran's border and put themselves at the mercy of IRR. They will be release after their wrists are slapped. They should grow up.

Sargord Pirouz

Fariba, let's be truthful, shall we?

by Sargord Pirouz on

The Iran-Kurdsitan border is NOT peaceful and tranquil as you have falsely stated. It is the focus of PJAK terrorist strikes, as well as the scene of criminal smuggling operations.

Right at the location these three Americans infiltrated the Iranian border, there has been intensive NAJA border police operations, with cases of IRGC assistance. Just last week, such operations were publicized, giving accounts of successful Iranian police efforts right at that very same part of the border.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'd like to see this international incident end well for all involved. I thought President Ahmadinejad's suggestion of a prisoner swap was a step in the right direction. There are families of Iranian military and scientific figures who are in the same predicament as the families of these three Americans. In the case of the Americans, at least the Swiss Red Cross has checked up on them. In the case of the missing Iranians, the families don't even have this to comfort them. There are more Iranians held than even these military and scientific figures. And, in the recent past, there were consulate staff figures in Iraqi Kurdistan that were held by the US military for a long period of time, without access to anyone, and were subjected to torture in the process.

The families of the three Americans should be asking US officials why exactly they were so quick to publicly reject the idea of a prisoner swap. Yet another case of arrogance, perhaps?


No need for concern

by MRX1 on

They will be released and/or exchanged for some of IRR spies and killers in Europe or in  U.S.

Again there are hundreds and perhaps thousends  of nice places on the face of the earth that a person can visit without fear of getting arrested, beaten or killed, so only bunch of koskhol partake in this kind of thing. How about Afghanistan for some mountain climbing? or Gaza for some needed R&R? by the way somalia is right by the water so I guaranty you there are some nice beaches  out there.!

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear Fariba

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on

why can't be once in our lives just not conspiratorial???

No way!! That would be un-Iranian :-) 

Fariba Amini

Conspicary theories!!

by Fariba Amini on

why can't we stop be conspiratorial once in our lives?????


You can't be serious!

by Landan-Neshin on

There is no two ways about it, Ms. Amini,either you are a very kind but naive person or you treat the readers as such! If I may add, your apparent belief and trust in all things American buggles the mind across the pond over here.


Dirty politics

by rustgoo on

I don't want to know who planned their trip, who paid for it, etc. It seems a mutual understanding has been reached between IRI, and USA for exchanging them with some Iranian agents held by the Americans. It's the business as usual. How can we know these kids were not duped into this thing only for providing a pretext for an arrangement already made between Hossein Obama and the IRI?



by tabar on

I'm planning to go to Iraqi Kurdistan this summer with a bunch of Kurdish students in Canada on a tour [I'm not Kurdish nor from Iraq by the way] and I can assure you it is a very safe place to go, and has a lot of attractions. It really is strongly developing its tourism industry and there are weekly flights from Vienna and other countries. Many Europeans are visiting Kurdistan for its rich history and attractions. Luckily I will get to be one of the few who doesn't buy into the media [actually even the media says Kurdistan is safe and developing tourism!].

I think the better question is instead of being concerned about their safety, and talking about how they could have chosen a better place to go, what's wrong with you....

Fariba Amini

I don't know... why don't

by Fariba Amini on

I don't know... why don't you ask them when they are back safe and sound.  There are no beaches in Somalia.  This part of Iraqi Kurdistan is quite safe and beautiful unless you are encountered by some Iranian officials.  Have you heard of being adventurous when you are young?   I guess not.

 Your comment is out of place. 



by MRX1 on

Who would go hiking in Iraq in a middle of all the madness? Do these people also go to beach in somalia?

There are so many fine places on the face of the earth  one can go. what's wrong with these people....