New Website Pushes to Free American Trio Imprisoned in Iran

New Website Pushes to Free American Trio Imprisoned in Iran

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July 31 marks the one-year anniversary of the detention in Iran of three young Americans. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were arrested by Iranian authorities when they apparently strayed across the Iran-Iraq border in the Kurdish area of Iraq. Protests were held this weekend in San Francisco and other cities to demand their release. The website has been campaigning for their release for a while. But there has been a lot of curiosity about what the three were doing living in the Middle East in the first place. Now some friends have launched another website Free Our Friends  dedicated to showcasing the work the three had done while living in the Middle East. Shon Meckfessel who spent time with them in the Middle East spoke about the website from London.


Why did you create this website?

I’ve been worried about how the campaign has been going for the last year. It has generated a lot of widespread support, but I’ve been concerned that some of the support has ended up a bit shallow in the end. There’s been a lot of talk about the situation that they’re in and the conditions in which they were caught, or abducted. But the answer to the question that a lot of people have had is what were we doing in the Middle East in the first place, has generally not been addressed. I feel that some people are quite curious about that. Some friends from Europe and the Middle East and I have come together to create an archive of their work, and put out some of the testimonies that some people have said on their behalf about why we were [in the Middle East] in the first place.

Who is this website for?

I think a lot of people who I feel are doing similar work to what we do for social justice have missed out that they have something in common with us. So I think it’s primarily towards those folks that the website is aimed.

And for journalists who might want some background on the story, since the immediate story has been really widely reported, but at this point people are wondering what more there is to talk about, what’s been left out. And we feel this is a really significant part that’s been left out.

I think that there has been some reluctance to talk about some of the issues, for instance, the Palestinian (issue). Shane did some incredible work, in something like 50 articles [for New America Media and other outlets], about everyday life in the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq, geopolitics, that kind of thing. I think there’s been a hesitation to bring those up in a big way to an American audience because some of them are kind of controversial, but I think now that we are addressing a global audience we are trying to make it less of a US-Iran bipolar issue.

Over the past year, Sarah, Shane and Josh have been described as hikers; people just out exploring the world. But now, your site is calling them as activists and journalists. How do you think this will affect the way the media and Iran will view them?

I definitely think the Iranian government would have a hard time detaining them for one year, Sarah in solitary, if it was more widely known about the kind of work they were doing for social justice in the Middle East. I expect it could even be somewhat embarrassing for [the Iranian government] the more that this gets out, and consequently could result in some pressure on them to release them sooner.

As far as the media, it’s sort of hard to say. It explains a lot of questions people had like what were they doing there in the first place. I think a lack of background has resulted in a lack of sympathy in the coverage. So hopefully, this is a corrective to that.

Has there been any reaction to the site so far?

I can’t say that there has. I just finished my first presentation of my 30-city tour. I think everybody in some sense is sympathetic. People lost patience about just hearing about hikers, hikers, hikers, after a year. What I hope for is a deeper interest, not just sort a vague sympathy. And then when they actually hear about the work that they’ve done, people who share similar convictions will have a renewed interest. They will say “wait, these are our people, we need to do a little more about this, we need to write a letter, talk to our friends.”

What are other friends doing?

I can definitely say that a lot of old friends from the Bay Area and the Middle East have felt at a loss; they haven’t wanted to do anything at odds with the campaign so far and with the way it has been talked about and so they have been sort of quiet. So I’m hoping that this [website] will encourage people to participate in all sorts of ways.