American Hikers Fall Ill in Iranian Prison

A serious gynecological condition and a stomach ailment plague imprisoned hikers

Two of three American hikers jailed in Iran for nearly nine months are in poor health and told Swiss diplomats--their first outside visitors since October --that they were considering a hunger strike, their mothers said late Thursday.

Sarah Shourd, who is being held alone in a cell, is suffering a serious gynecological condition and battling depression, while Shane Bauer has a stomach ailment, their mothers told The Associated Press.

Shourd, Bauer and Josh Fattal met earlier Thursday with the diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in the absence of a U.S.-Iran diplomatic relationship, at Evin Prison in Tehran. But they were given few details of their medical conditions.

“I'm really alarmed,” said Nora Shourd, who lives in Oakland, Calif. “I'm alarmed for Sarah's health. I think she needs immediate care.”

The three University of California at Berkeley graduates were detained July 31, after apparently straying into Iran while hiking in a scenic part of Iraq. This month, Iran's intelligence minister accused them of having links to U.S. intelligence services, which their families said was absurd.

Iranian officials have suggested each will be prosecuted, but no trial has been set. Although their families hired an Iranian attorney, he has not been allowed to see them.

Bauer and Fattal, who are both 27, and Shourd, 31, had been allowed no sympathetic visitors in months, though they were allowed to call their mothers in early March. The calls lasted about a minute.

Their mothers were heartened that the Swiss diplomats were allowed a 40-minute visit. They were told their children have been allowed to receive letters from family and friends, and were given access to books from the prison's library, the diplomats told their families. The three were told of efforts by their families to secure their release and that their mothers applied for visas to try to visit them in prison.

“The kids were very, very excited to hear that,” said Fattal’s mother, Laura Fattal, who lives near Philadelphia.

But the three have been told almost nothing by their captors about why they are being held or what charges they could face, their mothers said.

“They are very worried about the fact that they've been in there so long,” said Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, who lives near Pine City, Minn. “They have no influence, no control over what is happening with their case.”

News that the three were considering a hunger strike to protest their incarceration was especially troubling.

“Their health is not the best to begin with,” said Nora Shourd. “The fact that they're considering it is disturbing to us.”

She and Hickey, a former nurse, believe their children have had some medical attention in the Iranian prison, but they didn't know how much. They also were concerned about the quality of care.

Hickey worried her son's stomach ailment could quickly worsen, while Shourd said her daughter had a history of depression that was “being made worse by the fact that she's being held in solitary.”

The Swiss diplomats reported that Bauer and Fattal were being held in the same cell. Shourd was alone in another cell, but allowed to see Bauer and Fattal once a day for a few minutes.

“These are social, bright, articulate young people and they should not be alone the amount of time that they are,” Laura Fattal said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has appealed for their release. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he would do his best to free them, but noted that the U.S. was holding several Iranian citizens.

Bauer, a freelance journalist, had been hired to cover the Kurdish elections, but his family said the hiking trip was a vacation. He and Sarah Shourd were dating and had been living in Damascus, Syria. She taught English and had written for various online publications.

Josh Fattal went to visit them after traveling overseas on a teaching fellowship.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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