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Freed American Hiker Sarah Shourd pushing for Iran to release fiance, friend

During the nearly 14 months Sarah Shourd spent in an Iranian prison cell, she went on hunger strike four times. It was the only way she had to protest her prolonged detention.

On Friday, she fasted again, this time in solidarity with two fellow UC Berkley graduates left behind in Tehran’s Evin Prison after she was freed in September on $500,000 bail: her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend, Joshua Fattal.

"They have committed no crime," Shourd said in between media appearances in Los Angeles to promote their cause. "They have done nothing wrong, and they don’t deserve to be there a minute longer than I was."

Shourd and Baurer had been living in Damascus, Syria, for a year when Fattal came to visit them in July 2009. Shourd, 32, was teaching English to Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and Bauer, 28, was working as a photojournalist. She said the three friends were on a hiking trip in the scenic, semiautonomous and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq when they were accused of illegally crossing into Iran.

"We had no idea we were anywhere near Iran," said Shourd, who now lives in Oakland. "There was absolutely no indication of any kind of border."

She and the men’s families thought the nightmare was finally coming to an end when Bauer and Fattal had their first official court hearing in February and pleaded not guilty to charges including trespassing and espionage. But the next court session was delayed last month without explanation and no new trial date was announced.

"We were devastated," Shourd said. "I knew in my heart that Shane and Josh were going to be going on hunger strike when they didn’t go to court and I expressed that to their families."

Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, and Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal, announced May 19 that they were embarking on a "rolling hunger strike" in solidarity with their sons. Friends and supporters were invited to take up the relay and fast for a day. By Friday, more than 270 people had signed up through Facebook.

Journalist Roxana Saberi, who spent more than three months in Iranian custody, took part Thursday. Nazanin Boniadi, a British-Iranian actress and spokeswoman for Amnesty International USA, fasted Friday with Shourd, who was participating for the second time. And on Saturday, Fattal’s entire family, including his 85-year-old grandmother, planned to join in to mark his 29th birthday.

"We hope that news of the hunger strike will get to Shane and Josh and make them feel less alone," Shourd said.

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--Alexandra Zavis

 
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