Mothers of 3 Americans jailed in Iran get visas
By JEFF BAENEN, AP
MINNEAPOLIS — The mothers of three American hikers held in Iran said they collected their visas Wednesday and hope to travel to Tehran by early next week to visit their children in prison.
Nora Shourd told The Associated Press that the family of 27-year-old Josh Fattal picked up the travel documents from the Iranian interest section in Washington, D.C., so the visas are “finally in our hands.”
“We’re really over-the-top excited about this,” Shourd said. “I can barely breathe this morning. We’ve waited for this so long. And it’s going to be wonderful to see these kids, absolutely wonderful.”
Shourd’s daughter, Sarah, 31, has been held with Fattal and Shane Bauer, 27, since the three were arrested along the Iraqi border in July.
Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of rural Pine City, Minn., said the families need to coordinate a number of things before they can leave, hopefully early by next week. She said visas were granted to her; to Shourd, of Oakland, Calif.; and to Laura Fattal, of suburban Philadelphia.
Aside from visiting their children, the three plan to meet with the Iranian attorney they hired months ago along with the Swiss ambassador in Iran. Swiss diplomats have visited the hikers in prison since the U.S. has no official presence in Iran.
The mothers have also requested meetings with Iranian authorities but don’t know if they’ll get them, Hickey said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the visas had been issued and said the families’ travel plans would be arranged by Swiss representatives in Iran.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on state television this week that the Iranian government had ordered visas to be issued on humanitarian grounds.
Iran has accused the three Americans of spying. Their families and the U.S. government have denied the spying accusations and called for their release.
The three hikers are graduates of the University of California at Berkeley. They have been held in Iran for 285 days, and family members said recently they were growing more concerned after Swiss diplomats who visited them on April 22 reported that two of them were in poor health.
Shourd was said to be suffering a serious gynecological condition and Bauer a stomach ailment. Cindy Hickey said the families have had no updates on their children’s health since then.
Iran has not brought the three to trial or made clear if formal charges have been filed. In February, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed swapping them for Iranians he says are jailed in the U.S., raising fears that the three are being held as bargaining chips.
Bauer, a freelance journalist, had been hired to cover the Kurdish elections in Iraq, but his family said the hiking trip was a vacation. He and Shourd were dating and had been living in Damascus, Syria. She taught English and had written for various online publications. Fattal went to visit them after traveling overseas on a teaching fellowship.
Cindy Hickey said the mothers planned to carry small items to the hikers — cards, pictures, handmade gifts “to cheer them up.”
“When I walk in to see Shane, the first thing I want to instill is we love him and the family is doing absolutely everything we can to secure his release and that we won’t stop until he’s home,” she said.
Associated Press writers Doug Glass in Minneapolis and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.