New: Detained UC Berkeley Hikers Have Emotional Reunion with Mothers in Iran

By Jeff Shuttleworth, BCN
Thursday May 20, 2010 - 03:48:00 PM

Three University of California at Berkeley graduates who have been detained in Iran for more than nine months had a "very emotional" reunion with their mothers today at a hotel in Tehran, a family member said. 

Pat Sandys, the cousin of 31-year-old Sarah Shourd and the nephew of her mother, Nora Shourd, who lives in Oakland, said the meeting lasted five hours -- two hours longer than expected. 

Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, have been imprisoned in Iran since July 31. 

Their family members and friends say they were detained after they accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iran while hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region. But Iran has accused them of espionage and said that it plans to prosecute them, although no formal charges have been filed. 

In addition to Nora Shourd, the mothers are Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., and Laura Fattal of Elkins Park, Penn. 

Footage provided by Iran's state-run television network showed the mothers throwing their arms in the air and rushing to embrace their children as they entered a meeting room at the Esteghlal Hotel in northern Tehran, where the mothers have been staying since they arrived in Iran on Wednesday. 

The detained hikers hugged and kissed their mothers, who were wearing long black robes and holding flowers. 

"We're very happy with how the meeting went," said Sandys, who lives in Southern California and is now on vacation with his family in Florida. 

The mothers had expected to visit the hikers at Evin Prison in Tehran and were pleasantly surprised that the meeting occurred at their hotel, Sandys said. The mothers "were treated with the utmost respect" by Iranian officials, he said. 

"We hope this is a continuing good sign and is building momentum but it doesn't solve the problem" of getting the hikers released from prison, Sandys said. 

Today's meeting was the first time the hikers had been allowed out of prison since they were detained, but they were returned there after the meeting, Sandys said. 

"We hope that there will be more meetings and we can push to have them released but it seems unlikely that they'll be released at this time," he said. 

The mothers applied for visas to visit Iran on Jan. 6 but didn't receive them until May 12. 

Sandys said he's been told that the visas are good for about a week. 

He said the mothers "want to stay as long as possible" and hope to meet with Iran's leaders to plead for the release of their children but it's possible they could be forced to leave the country on short notice. 

"Things change quickly," Sandys said. 

Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran because Iran and the U.S. don't have direct relations, reported after a meeting with the hikers on April 27 that Sarah Shourd has serious health issues and Shane Bauer has a stomach ailment.