BERKELEY, Calif.-- With Mother's Day arriving this weekend and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York for a conference, several U.S. senators on Tuesday called for the release of three University of California, Berkeley, graduates who have been imprisoned in Iran for more than nine months.
"Enough is enough," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "President Ahmadinejad, we call on you today to immediately release the three on humanitarian grounds and allow them to come home."
Sarah Shourd, 31, Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, were arrested July 31 in Iran while hiking a trail that crossed an unmarked range of the Iran-Iraq border. Iranian officials have suggested that the three were spying for the United States, charges that the State Department has flatly denied and the hikers' families have called ridiculous.
Failing the hikers' release, Boxer said, the senators asked that Iran finally grant the detainees' mothers the travel visas for which they applied in January. The women have said for months now that they are regularly told the visas will be approved "soon," only to have their hopes dashed.
Boxer was joined by Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota, who represent the states where the hikers' families live.
In regards to whether Iran's suspicions could have some validity, Franken said, "We've often received intelligence briefings, which are obviously classified, but they were not spies."
Officials in Iran "haven't been asking (the hikers) questions about this for the past six months," he said. "They're not developing a case, not looking further into this. There's nothing here to indicate at all this was anything other than three young people hiking in a beautiful area of the world."
Citing the widely reported clash that occurred Monday between Ahmadinejad and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over Iran's purported nuclear program, Specter called the hikers "pawns in an international struggle. ... This would be a step, not a small step, but a big step by the Iranians to show they are humanitarians and release them. I think it would do the Iranian government a lot of good in the eyes of the world."
The hikers' mothers all traveled to New York this week in hopes of meeting with Ahmadinejad, though their requests had gone unanswered Tuesday, Nora Shourd said.
"We'd like to call on him as anguished mothers to let them go," she said. On Mother's Day, she said, she and her daughter often share small gestures, "some cute little thing, a chocolate cake or a card or even just a long talk. None of that's going to happen, so it's going to be a hard day this year."
Casey said the families "have shown tremendous restraint in taking their cues from the State Department. These parents have held together very well, but they're suffering."
He read a statement from Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, in which she said, "My biggest gift on Mother's Day has always been the call I get from my children, and knowing they are safe, happy and doing good things in the world. I know I will hear from my daughters, which will be a great joy, but there will be an empty place in my heart without Shane home."
Nora Shourd repeatedly has said that her daughter and her companions rely on letters of support to make it through their imprisonment, and she asked that residents go to www.freethehikers.org to find information on continuing to send those letters.