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Suffering from PTSD, Freed U.S. Hiker Sarah Shourd Won’t Return to Iran Next Week for Espionage Trial Alongside Jailed Fiancé, Friend

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Months after her release from an Iranian prison, U.S. citizen Sarah Shourd has announced she will not return to Tehran next week to face espionage charges. Shourd was jailed for 14 months after she and friends, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, were detained by Iranian forces on July 31, 2009, for allegedly hiking across the Iraqi border into Iran. The trial for Bauer — who is now Shourd’s fiancé — and Fattal begins May 11. Shourd had planned to return to Iran but has canceled her trip because she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: An American woman released on bail last year from an Iranian prison has announced she will not return to Tehran next week to face espionage charges. Sarah Shourd was jailed for 14 months after she and two of her friends were detained by Iranian border forces on July 31st, 2009, for allegedly hiking across the Iraqi border into Iran. She was released on humanitarian grounds on $500,000 bail last September. Shourd’s friends, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, remain imprisoned in Iran. They have now been held for over 91 weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane Bauer is a 28-year-old freelance journalist who has worked for Democracy Now! You can go to our website and see one of his reports. He has also worked for The Nation, for Mother Jones and other news outlets.

Josh Fattal is 28 years old. He’s an environmental educator.

Sarah Shourd also revealed Wednesday she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s joining us here in New York.

Sarah, welcome. Your fiancé, Shane, and Josh, still in prison. The trial is next week. You were supposed to return. Tell us about your PTSD.

SARAH SHOURD: Well, I can’t go back, Amy. A part of me would like to go and stand by Shane and Josh. This is going to be a very difficult experience for them. But my — I had a diagnosis for post-traumatic stress, and I feel it will be aggravated if I return and could result in permanent damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your time in prison, in the Iranian prison, and what you understand Josh and Shane are going through now. Though they have each other, you were alone as a woman imprisoned.

SARAH SHOURD: I was alone. I saw Shane and Josh very little. And my mental health concerns right now, what I’m suffering, what the families are suffering, only make us more concerned about Shane and Josh. They’ve been there far longer than I was. I was there for 14 months, and they have now been there for more than 21 months. And we’ve had no communication with them for over five months. We don’t know if they’re safe. They could be sick. When I was in prison, we resorted to hunger striking several times because of our conditions, because we had no access to our families and no communication with the outside world. I fear that Shane and Josh could be hunger striking now, and we wouldn’t know.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what do you know about the trial? Have they had access to lawyers? Will they be able to have lawyers defending them in this trial?

SARAH SHOURD: We have a courageous lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, and he’s done the best he possibly can, within the framework of Iranian law, to defend Shane and Josh, but he’s made no progress. He’s never been allowed to meet with them privately. So they’re going on trial — this is the second session — May 11th. And I believe this is an opportunity to resolve this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And will this be done — would it be a public trial, or will — is it in a civilian or military court?

SARAH SHOURD: The first trial was private. It was a closed trial. There were 45 international journalists outside of the courtroom that were not allowed in. And we hope that this will be made public.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your time there, and talk about what you went through, to give us a sense of what they’re going through now.

SARAH SHOURD: Well, Shane and Josh — I was alone in a cell, and I saw them briefly every day in the open-air room, which is just high stone walls with bars over the ceiling. They’re in a small, cramped space. And I’ve heard that now they only leave their cell 40 minutes a day. The lights are always on. They have to sleep with something wrapped around their eyes. They have — they’re completely isolated. It’s an extreme form of isolation.

AMY GOODMAN: What indications are you getting from the Iranian government, from Ahmadinejad, the president, and also from our president in the United States, about what’s happening?

SARAH SHOURD: Well, there have been so many positive statements made. When I met with Ahmadinejad after I was released in September — I met with him in New York — he said he would recommend to the judiciary that they treat this case with leniency and expediency. Twenty-one months without a trial is not expedient. But I’d like to believe that the president has passed on these recommendations to the judiciary and that we will see results come this May 11th.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, you’ve raised — you’ve wanted to refute certain allegations that were made in the initial hearing that were held. What were the specific ones that you felt were just outrageous?

SARAH SHOURD: Well, it’s impossible for me to believe that the Iranian authorities actually think that Shane and Josh are a threat. When we —- from the very first minute that the soldiers found us hiking somewhere near the Iran-Iraq border, that is completely unmarked, behind a tourist location, they knew -—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe you even crossed the border?

SARAH SHOURD: I have no way of knowing that. There was no indication of a border. And we were not in a dangerous area. We were in an area where a lot of Kurdish people vacation in the summer, and they have homes in that area. So —

AMY GOODMAN: What made you go into Iran ultimately? The Iranian soldiers called you or pulled you over?

SARAH SHOURD: We were having lunch, and then we saw soldiers, and they motioned for us to come to them. From the very first moment, they knew that we had no intention of coming into Iran. I wasn’t — in Iran, it’s mandatory for a woman to wear a headscarf. I wasn’t wearing a headscarf. The first thing that the Iranian soldiers did, they forced us into their jeep. They took us with them. They stopped in the first town to buy me the proper clothing, because I couldn’t even be seen by police and questioned the way that I was dressed, without a headscarf and proper clothing. When I was — the chief of human rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, he said that I was released because the judiciary was convinced that I was incapable of espionage. Shane and Josh are incapable of espionage, too. They’re two peace activists. None of us spoke a word of Farsi before we were thrown in prison in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Why were you in that area?

SARAH SHOURD: We were on vacation. You know, I was living in Damascus. I was teaching Iraqi refugees that wanted to come to college in the West, in the U.S., and pursue higher education. I was learning Arabic. And northern Iraq is a safe place. It’s the other Iraq. No American has ever been killed or kidnapped there in recent decades. It’s a no-fly zone. It was made a no-fly zone in 1991 to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein. And so, people don’t understand that we were not in a war zone or a dangerous area.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, you fully expect, by not attending the trial, that you’ll be tried in absentia by the Iranian government, or they’ve given any indication that they would — have dropped your charges altogether?

SARAH SHOURD: No, I’ll be tried. And I hope that this is an opportunity for justice. It’s long overdue.

AMY GOODMAN: How are you dealing with your post-traumatic stress?

SARAH SHOURD: One day at a time, the same way that Shane and Josh are and everyone in our families and everyone that loves us.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you able, are Josh’s parents able to, are Shane’s parents able to talk to them?

SARAH SHOURD: No, we haven’t been allowed a phone call since Thanksgiving, and even that was extremely brief. The lack of phone calls is cruel. I don’t understand the logic.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you know whether any of their family members or a representative of the United States government, I guess, will be attending the trial at all?

SARAH SHOURD: No, none of us have been invited to the trial. As I said, the first session, the Swiss consulate, the ambassador, wasn’t even allowed. And she’s supposed to —- Ambassador Loy represents our interests. Masoud Shafiee will be there. He’s a very brave man, our lawyer. And Shane and Josh are completely isolated. All they have is Masoud Shafiee. They have him, and they have God. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything Americans can do, or people who are watching, listening to this, reading this, all over the world, including Iran?

SARAH SHOURD: Yes, join our campaign. You know, we need numbers. We need help with doubling our Facebook friends.

AMY GOODMAN: And your website?

SARAH SHOURD: Our website is freethehikers.org. There are action alerts. The more people keeping our story on the radar, the better.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Shourd, thanks so much for being with us, detained by Iranian border forces, along with Shane and Josh, July 2009.

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