Imprisoned Iran Hikers: Mom Still Has Hope, And Obama, On Her Side
Ben Felleman is almost a typical Millennial or Gen Y young man: a 25-year-old who digs the local Houston music acts, enjoys steady employment as an SAT instructor and his own freelance work as photographer, and is counting the days until he begins his doctorate in clinical psychology this fall.
Photos courtesy Ben Felleman/ See a slideshow from the vigil Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal: The three hikers
But while most millennials are used to some form of this degree of multitasking, Felleman, between wedding gigs and teaching analogies, has also spent this past year petitioning the Republic of Iran for the release of his cousin, Josh Fattal.
This past Saturday Felleman hosted a Free the Hikers' Vigil at Taft Street Coffee to raise awareness in Houston about the one year his cousin Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd have now spent incarcerated in Tehran's Evin prison.
The event was one of 32 held in cities worldwide and Felleman had hoped the vigil would turn into a celebration of their return home.
The short of Felleman's family nightmare: on July 31st, 2009, Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd were hiking around the Ahmed Awa waterfall in northern Iraq and were detained by Iranian authorities for allegedly trespassing.
Laura Fattal, Josh's mom, told Hair Balls last night that although there is now a report circulating that the three young hikers were in fact pursued by Iranian officers, she and the other moms are focused on reminding everyone this is a humanitarian issue.
"I'm aware of the article in The Nation and, of course, I understand this is an important finding and we have our lawyer, Masoud Shafii, handling all legal aspects of the allegations against the kids. But, I must say, I find it hard to believe that Josh, with his incredible sense of direction would get lost... At this point, we just want our kids' freedom, we want them home."
The three mothers are in constant contact with the US. Department of State and have met with Secretary Hillary Clinton twice, but when told that the high-ranking official she would get a call from last Monday would be President Obama, Mrs. Fattal was beyond "honored."
On Friday, President Obama released a statement "urging" Iran to release the hikers.
"Their unjust detention has nothing to do with the issues that continue to divide the United States and the international community from the Iranian government," the statement said. "This is a humanitarian imperative, as these three young people are innocent of any crime."
He also stated that Josh, Sara and Shane have never been employed by the United States government and that "they are simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America, and of the human spirit."
Yet the one-year anniversary came and went this Saturday without any word from the "kids."
The Minnesota, California and Philadelphia mothers led the New York Vigil on Friday outside the Iranian Mission.
"On Saturday we had our local vigil at the Liberty Bell, because it's what we want most: our children's freedom," said Mrs. Fattal.
At Taft Street Coffee on Saturday, Ben Felleman told supporters that his cousin Josh and his friends are advocates of social and environmental justice who admire and respect different cultures and share a love for travel.
The two cousins
"This is why they were in Iraq, not because they wanted to enter Iran."
He tried to keep his voice steady while telling supporters his cousin was a compassionate and intelligent man with a "goofy side" (he mentioned a YouTube video of Josh's "horrible" rapping about his travels in Iraq); he also shared how he played hoops with Josh while growing up.
Because Josh is a big fan, Felleman asked Lee Alexander, one of the performers at the vigil, to play Bob Dylan.
And right before a minute of silence at 1:33 pm, the exact time the American hikers were arrested, Alexander played Marley's "Redemption Song."
Felleman told supporters that he has always looked up to Josh. Three years older than Felleman, Josh is also planning for future graduate study. During the two thirty-minute long periods that he and Shane spend with Sarah -- who's otherwise in a cell by herself and needs to press a button to be taken to the restroom -- Josh and Sarah quiz each other in preparation for the GRE.