Three UC Berkeley Graduates Detained in Iran

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 04, 2009 - 09:20:00 AM

The three American hikers who recently disappeared in Iran have been identified as UC Berkeley graduates. At least two are journalists based in Africa and the Middle East. 

The university's News Center reported Aug. 3 that former students Shane Bauer, Sarah Emily Shourd and Joshua Felix Fattal were hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region last week when they were reportedly detained by the Iranian government. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Iranian authorities to provide information about their safety. 

Bauer, who was born in Minnesota, is a 2007 peace and conflict studies graduate and used his fluency in Arabic to work in North Africa and the Middle East, where he spent the majority of the last six years. His website shows that he has recently produced stories on Iraq and Syria for New American Media. 

As an undergraduate, Bauer, 27, took courses in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, going on to win the university's Matthew M. Lyon Prize in Photography in 2007 for his photographs of the devastation in Darfur, Sudan. 

On his website, Bauer is described as "a documentary photographer and journalist whose work focuses on the effects of social, economic, and political realities on the lives of people around the world." His blog posts cover a wide array of topics, ranging from the violence of al Qaeda to orphans in Ethiopia to unrest in the Arab world. Bauer's photographs of the residents of a hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin district were selected by his classmates as the lead story of the journalism school's May 2007 issue of Realeyes magazine. 

Shourd, 30, transferred from Diablo Valley College to UC Berkeley in 2000. She graduated three years later with a B.A. in English. Shourd recently reported a story for New American Media on Israel's Golan Heights. 

The website bravenewtraveler.com describes Shourd as a "teacher-activist-writer from California currently based in the Middle East." 

Her last story for the website, in 2008, was titled "Escape from Iraq: A Muslim Family Finds Solace in Ramadan. 

Fattal, 27, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004 with a B.S. in environmental economics and policy from the College of Natural Resources. Shon Meckfessel, a fourth American detainee, who news reports said was with the three in Turkey but did not take part in the July 31 hike, enrolled in a summer course in Arabic at UC Berkeley two years ago and is currently going to graduate school in linguistics at the University of Washington. 

The Times UK reported a Kurdish official who said the three contacted one of their colleagues to say they had entered Iran "accidentally" Friday and had found themselves surrounded by troops. The Times said that Iran's state television had reported that the Americans were arrested after they did not listen to warnings from Iranian border guards. It said that efforts by Swiss diplomats to get information about the three had been unsuccessful. 

Earlier this year Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were held by North Korean authorities near the China border, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry into the country and "hostile acts." 

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea and negotiated their release.