Hikers held in Iran reunited with mothers

The mothers of three American hikers detained in Iran since last summer were reunited with their children and hope to make a direct appeal for their release.

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TEHRAN // The mothers of three American hikers detained in Iran since last summer were reunited with their children in emotional scenes yesterday during a trip in which they hope to make a direct appeal to Iranian officials for their release. Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal threw their arms in the air and rushed to embrace their children as they entered the Tehran hotel room close to Evin prison where the three are being held, in footage aired on Iran's state-run Press TV. They hugged the three and kissed them on the cheeks as they embraced, with tears in their eyes.

Iran detained the three Americans - Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27 - along the Iraqi border in late July and have accused them of entering from Iraqi territory and spying. Their relatives reject the accusation and say the three were hiking in Iraq's scenic and largely peaceful northern Kurdish region. The mothers, wearing long black robes during the meeting, arrived in Tehran on Wednesday after Tehran granted them visas to visit their children in what it said was an Islamic humanitarian gesture. The Americans appealed to them to release the three on the same grounds.

"We hope we're going home soon, maybe with our mothers," Josh Fattal said as the group was interviewed while seated together at the Esteghlal Hotel. Massoud Shafii, a lawyer acting for the three, said the mothers had told him before their arrival they intended to seek meetings with top Iranian authorities to plead for the release of their children. "I told them this had to be done through diplomatic channels," Mr Shafii told The National. "I'm not sure whether that step has been taken yet."

He said he hoped to meet the mothers today and talk about the details of the case. "The mothers insist that they stay longer than seven days but it is not clear whether authorities will agree to extend their visas," he said. The detainees were taken to the hotel in a white van to meet their mothers. The three were dressed in jeans and T-shirts, with Sarah Shourd wearing a headscarf. The mothers and their children were shown on television later enjoying lunch together in the hotel room.

During the press conference held in the same room the mothers expressed their gratitude to the Iranian authorities for allowing them to meet their children and said they sympathised with Iranians held in the US. The detainees said they spent their time in prison exercising and reading. Ms Shourd said she saw Mr Fattal and Mr Bauer, who are held together in a separate cell, once a day and that they spent their time together talking, singing and telling each other stories about their lives.

Sarah Shourd said it has been "terrible to be away from our families for this long". "We've only received one phone call and it was five minutes long and that was amazing - we waited and prayed for that every day," she said. "This [the meeting] is something obviously we've been praying for and it makes a huge difference." She said that their treatment by the Iranian authorities had been "decent" and loneliness has been the hardest part of her detention.

Iran's intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi yesterday described Tehran's treatment of the three US citizens as just. "We have treated the US nationals according to our religious principles and on humanitarian grounds, even though these individuals committed an act of espionage by illegally crossing the border into Iran. But you bear witness as to how they [the United States] who claim to advocate human rights treat our people in return," he was quoted by Press TV as saying.

"We have asked the Americans to reciprocate and treat the innocent Iranian individuals that the US has abducted well." The case of the three US detainees is still at the investigation stage and they have not been able to meet their lawyer yet. @Email:msinaiee@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by the Associated Press