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A message to Iran

Port Moody’s Ian MacKenzie with a photo of two hikers detained in Iran. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
Port Moody’s Ian MacKenzie with a photo of two hikers detained in Iran.
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

From the Tri-Cities to Tehran, one Port Moody man is trying to send a message to the government of Iran: Let my friends go.

Ian MacKenzie began a 24-hour fast on Thursday as part of a “rolling hunger strike” by the family and friends of American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer protesting what they say is the illegal detainment of the two University of California Berkeley grads by Iranian authorities since July 2009.

The men were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the country’s remote and mountainous north, with Bauer’s fiancee, Sarah Shourd, when they were taken hostage by an armed man who turned out to be an Iranian soldier, MacKenzie said.

The three were held captive in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, on the northern outskirts of Tehran, but Shourd was released last September, 14 months after being taken captive, due to health problems and the posting of $500,000 bail, according to MacKenzie.

Prior to her captivity, Shourd and MacKenzie had established a friendship through writing about their travels for an online magazine MacKenzie had started called Brave New Traveler.

Since then, Shourd, MacKenzie and the mothers of the two backpackers have organized the rolling hunger strikes to raise awareness about the detention and alleged physical abuse suffered by Bauer and Fattal for nearly two years.

Their voices are part of a growing chorus.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, actor Sean Penn, anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu and U.S. President Barack Obama have all called for the humane treatment and release of Bauer and Fattal, who are allegedly being held without charge or trial by the Iranian government under suspicion of being American spies.

“Sarah, Shane and Josh have never worked for the United States government,” President Obama said on the anniversary of their detention on July 30, 2010. “They are simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America and of the human spirit. They are teachers, artists, and advocates for social and environmental justice.”

On Thursday, MacKenzie planned to stay in a small, locked room in his Port Moody apartment “in a small attempt to recreate the space that both hikers have been confined to for almost two years,” he said.

MacKenzie said that almost as disheartening as the detention and uncertain fate of the two imprisoned hikers has been some of the online reaction to their story from people telling him that the two young Americans had no business living and travelling in that part of the world.

“What these hikers were doing was actually an incredible service to actually illuminate these places that we don’t get to see and then share their stories,” said MacKenzie, who has hiked through Southeast Asia and Colombia. “Then to have people back home say, ‘I told you so, you should have stayed home,’ is ludicrous.

“My goal is to allow people this moment to not look away.”

• For more information, visit freethehikers.org.

tcoyne@tricitynews.com

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