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Mother Of American Detained In Iran: 'This Case Has Nothing To Do With Politics'

Joshua Fattal (right) with his mother, Laura Fattal, in an undated family photograph
Joshua Fattal (right) with his mother, Laura Fattal, in an undated family photograph
The mothers of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, three Americans who were recently detained in Iran, have issued a letter to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, urging him to bring their children to the United States when he travels to New York next week to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal were detained on July 31, reportedly after unintentionally straying across an unmarked border area between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to Laura Fattal, the mother of 27-year-old Josh Fattal.

RFE/RL: Today you delivered a letter to the Iranian Mission in New York with a request that it be relayed to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. What would you tell him if you could speak to him directly?

Laura Fattal:
We would say, "President Ahmadinejad, you as a father will understand the importance of bringing our children home to us. And you will understand that this is a time of forgiveness and reflection. And it is a time when the United Nations meets -- an organization devoted to friendship and peace. And it is a time for us to share friendship and peace among all nations." And we urge him to bring Josh, Shane, and Sarah with him.

Sarah Shourd
RFE/RL: Your son and his two friends have been in Iranian custody for some 50 days now. You haven't been able to speak with them over the phone. What kind of news have you been receiving about them, about their location and conditions?

Unfortunately, we don't have any news of their location. We are concerned about them every single day. We are hopeful that they're being fed; that they have showers; that they have a good bed; and their well-being is being taken care of. But we are worried every single day.

We don't have word about them and we have not spoken to them and we have not received counselor access through the Swiss, the protecting power for the United States in Iran. The U.S. State Department has worked very closely with the Swiss government, and the Swiss government, being our protecting agency, is going frequently to the Iranian authorities to seek counselor access and to learn more about our children.

RFE/RL: But they haven't been given access to Josh, Shane, and Sarah so far?

No, to the best of our knowledge.

RFE/RL: Some Iranian officials have reportedly said that your son and his two friends are suspected of espionage. What is your reaction?

Our children are suspected of illegal entry into Iran. This case has absolutely nothing to do with politics. Our kids -- Josh, Shane and Sarah -- they have an enormous respect for different cultures, societies, and religions. They had no intention of going into Iran.

RFE/RL: Please tell us about your son Josh. What was he doing before being taken into custody?

He was a teaching fellow with the International Honors Program from January to May. This is an undergraduate study-abroad program. This was a very prestigious paid position, and he worked with undergraduate students on the topic of health and community in countries such as Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa.

He finished his trip in May and visited his brother, who is a graduate student in anthropology in Europe. He also met his father, who was on a business trip in Germany for a few days, and then Josh went traveling in southern Europe. Then he met his friend, Shane, in Damascus, where Shane and Sarah were living.

He was planning to spend a short time there and Sarah, Shane's partner, was teaching English in Damascus and Sarah had a one-week vacation; and that's why they decided to go to a cooler place than Damascus in the summer and they went up to Iraqi Kurdistan.

RFE/RL: That's when they accidentally crossed the border into Iran?

They are suspected of illegal entry. I would like to add that it would be a wonderful humanitarian effort by President Ahmadinejad to bring our children home with him. We are eager for him to bring the children to the United States and it would be a wonderful occasion for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We urge him to do that and we ask for his compassion both as a leader and as a parent.

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