Today, I carry the torch of a rolling hunger strike for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two American journalists who have been detained in Iran for more than twenty months without a trial. In these long twenty months, they have only been permitted two short phone calls, one family visit, no opportunity to write a letter to their loved ones, and since October last year, they have only spoken to and seen prison guards. Their families do not even know how they are coping.
Shane and Josh's story is unfortunately not an uncommon one. In 2010, the Iranian government executed 542 prisoners. Many of them did not get a fair trial or even access to a lawyer. And many of them were executed because their political views did not conform with those of the Islamic Republic. According to former New York Times Iran correspondent Nazila Fathi, the Iranian government is currently holding 1,000 political prisoners in jail. Five hundred of them have been tried, while another 500 are faced with the uncertainty shared by Josh and Shane.
For the larger American audience, Josh and Shane have come to personalize the systematic human rights abuses that currently take place in the Islamic Republic.
Their case alone is riddled with human rights violations. According to Article 38 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, prisoners who are foreign nationals shall be allowed reasonable facilities to communicate with the diplomatic and consular representatives of the State to which they belong. Yet, Josh and Shane have only had four consular visits, totaling no more than 2.5 hours out of of the 14,600 hours they have been detained. Instead, Josh and Shane spend 23 hours and twenty minutes a day locked in a cell no larger than 10 by 14 feet with no access to anyone but their prison guards.
Though Josh and Shane have a right to due process and access to their lawyer under Iranian law, they have only been able to spend five minutes with their lawyer - in the presence of the investigator and prosecutor. Their ability to defend themselves has been all but eliminated since their trial keeps getting postponed inexplicably. And every time it does, their nightmare continues.
Iranian Americans can easily identify with Josh and Shane's families, because their story is eerily familiar. Josh and Shane are trapped as pawns in a political battle within Iran's ruling elite, as well as that between the U.S. and Iran. They have no part, no role, and no influence over either one of these man-made conflicts.
But those who carry these conflicts forward cannot escape accountability. Those who are holding Josh and Shane are not only violating their human rights, they are also violating Iranian law. This charade must end. Josh and Shane must be released. And so must all prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic.