The mothers of the three American hikers detained in Iran on spying accusations tell RFE/RL that they are ready at a "moment's notice" to travel to Iran a second time to secure the release of their children. The three women returned on May 22 from Tehran, where they'd met with their children -- Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 -- for the first time since those three were sent to Tehran's notorious Evin prison. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev spoke to the mothers by telephone during their May 24 stopover in New York.
RFE/RL: The so-called prisoner-swap proposal -- was this something new to you? What do you think about it?
Cindy Hickey, mother of Shane Bauer: The new information coming out of Iran is really not new -- it's definitely been heard before. The talk about espionage charges is totally ridiculous; that couldn't be farther away from who our kids are. And as far as the "prisoner swap" goes, we have no idea what the [U.S.] government is doing.... We aren't privy to that information, so we just continue doing the same thing we've done. We plan on increasing [efforts] as we can, but our plea is a humanitarian plea to release our children.
RFE/RL: Do you get some instructions from the U.S. State Department? What is your means of communication with them?
Hickey: There is an exchange between the State Department and us. But as far as instructions and what we should do -- we do our own thing, they do their thing, we really aren't advised by the State Department as what to do. We always have requests of the State Department, we encourage them to do whatever they absolutely have to do to secure the release of Shane, Sarah, and Josh. Of course we can't dictate to our government and we don't. All we can do is encourage them and push to do what they have to do to get these three Americans home.
RFE/RL: If a second trip may help to secure the release of your kids, would you go?
Nora Shourd, mother of Sarah Shourd: If we're allowed to go to Iran again, we'd gladly go to see our children in a moment's notice. We had two days and we had two wonderful visits with our kids, but that's hardly getting them released. Hopefully the next time we go to Iran we'll be bringing our kids home. This is what we want to do.
RFE/RL: It's been reported that while in Iran you were frustrated with the results of your efforts to meet senior officials, could you elaborate?
Shourd: We were hoping that we can meet with the senior Iranian officials that would be directly connected to the kids' case. We did request the meeting, but it wasn't the main focus of our visit. The main focus was to see our children -- we hadn’t seen them in 10 months. So every moment we can spend with them -- we're very thankful for that. If we saw the officials, of course we would plead with them for their release on humanitarian grounds and tell them as much as we could about who they are as individuals, the work they do in the world, of their politics -- which are very much in a line with a lot of politics in Iran, actually. And we think that if we got the ear of certain people, that they may be more accepting or more in line with letting them go if they knew more about them.
RFE/RL: Regarding the announced engagement of Sarah and Shane, did you get impression that the prison authorities may allow them some private time?
Shourd: That's quite an interesting idea. But I think given that this is the Islamic Republic of Iran, I don't think that will happen. They have very strict laws about men and women together even though they are engaged. No, I don't think that is going to happen. You know, they get a little private time together and...actually, if you can imagine this, they are allowed to go outside in a kind of a courtroom, a courtyard once a day. And sometimes Josh very magnanimously allows Sarah and Shane to be together during that visit so they can have some private time in that way. It's very short and not all that private, but that's about the only privacy that they are going to get.
RFE/RL: Laura, the ordeal of your children -- has it made the bonds among you, the mothers, stronger?
Laura Fattal, mother of Josh Fattal: Absolutely, not a question. This is a crisis, we have three Americans in Evin prison together over almost 10 months. You can only imagine the mothers and the families are a tightening group and I doubt very, very much that we will ever separate.
RFE/RL: The photos from your visit the kids look as if they've lost some weight, what's your impression?
Fattal: We didn't ask the specifics. I know that Shane and Josh, who share a cell, have been exercising a lot, so maybe they are particularly trim, but I don't have the exact amount on weight loss on this. But I know that exercise is the main activity there for them during the day.
RFE/RL: I've already asked Cindy to repeat the question -- if there's a possibility for a second trip that may accelerate the release of your children -- are you prepared to go?
Fattal: Yes, we of course are considering that and of course, the first hope is that the kids are released. But if they're not released soon, we will absolutely consider going again.
RFE/RL: What is the overall feeling of your trip?
Fattal: Well, we anticipated this trip a long time. We came with great optimism on two parts: one of the most important parts was to see our kids. And we were enormously happy and grateful to the Islamic Republic of Iran for granting us the visa and giving us generous amount of time: six hours on Thursday and four hours on Friday to be with our kids. This was absolutely terrific and they were very, very generous and hospitable with really extremely generous amounts of food; that we could have lunches and snacks with our kids and they had allowed for the prolonged amount of time that we had with our kids.
Of course it's not enough; but what we didn't get was our wish, our expressed wish before we came to Iran, that we can bring the kids home with us. The Iranian people who saw us perhaps recognized us from television broadcasts within Iran. And they showed motherly and fatherly concern for our kids, so we were very, very appreciative of that.