Laura Fattal, the mother of Elkins Park, Pa. native Josh Fattal, has been making the rounds to any media venue that will listen—all in hopes that her efforts will bring Josh home.
Twenty-eight-year-old Josh Fattal has been held in an Iranian prison since July 2009 along with his friend Shane Bauer. A third prisoner, Sarah Shourd—Bauer’s fiancée—was arrested with them but released on bail in September.
They are being held on espionage-related charges in Evin Prison.
The trio was hiking in northern Iraq near the Iranian border when they were taken into custody by Iranian forces—who accuse them of spying for the U.S.
The hikers’ families have denied these accusations, insisting that the group was simply enjoying an innocent hike.
Privately, Laura has written a letter to her son every day for the past 22 months. Publicly, she is making sure that her voice and those of the families are heard. When asked about the “whirlwind media tour” she’s embarked on, Josh’s mother stood more upright, stressing that such work is “necessary” if she hopes to get her son and his friend back on American soil.
When asked if she’s worried that her son and Bauer have been overshadowed by the recent political upheaval in the Middle East, Laura remained positive, believing that the prisoners remain prominent in people’s minds.
“I think we are a special case… I think we hold a special place in many people’s hearts,” she said.
She commended Philadelphia, in particular, for “really supporting us tremendously.”
Many celebrities have stepped forward to show their support as well, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Yusuf Islam, who posted a video on YouTube appealing for due process.
Ali, who wrote to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, implored, “Please show the world the compassion I know you have in your heart,” asking Khamenei as a brother in Islam to show the same mercy and compassion for the two men as he did for Shourd.
But while the voices pleading for the prisoners remain loud, their own have been silent for the past three months, according to Laura.
She told NBC Philadelphia that the two have not had communication with the outside world since a five-minute phone call over Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from that brief conversation, the sons have had only a handful of other communications, including a heartfelt and emotional meeting in Iran on May 21, 2010.
So those daily letters Laura writes—they go unanswered, and have since her son was imprisoned.
When asked about her letters, though, Laura immediately shows a braced smile. She admits it’s hard to not hear back from Josh, but she has no plans on stopping.
Needless to say, the hikers’ families are terribly concerned for the well being of Josh and Shane. According to the Iranian lawyer for the hikers, Masoud Shafiei, their May 11 trial was postponed—without explanation.
“Our hopes were dashed,” admitted Laura.
Shourd did not return to Iran for the trial and will be tried in absentia. She recently told the Associated Press that she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is worried returning would be “far too traumatic after what [she’s] already been through.”
Laura expressed fear over what the postponement could mean for the two still in Iran, though. The mother fears the worst: if Shourd has PTSD, and Josh and Bauer have been in Evin—as of the writing of this article—more than seven months longer than her, they could be suffering much worse.
Laura is worried that the trial could have been postponed to conceal the physical and psychological traumas the pair may have endured while in captivity.
And though Shourd was kept away in solitary confinement for much of her stay in Evin, the two other hikers have suffered what Laura calls “an extreme isolation,” claiming that they are kept from talking to anyone—their lawyer; their family; other prisoners—except each other. While the pair does get rec time, Laura says that it’s while the rest of the prison population is kept inside.
To battle these conditions, Laura worries that the two could have resorted to a hunger strike--primarily as a reaction to the postponed trial.
“It’s the only tactic they have.”
As she notes, everyone involved thought that the trial could mark the end of the ordeal.
"Of course, we were all hoping at the end of this trial on May 11th, Josh and Steve would be released," she told NBC Philadelphia.
Laura Fattal refuses to let any of this ordeal silence her; if anything, she is getting louder. The mother moves from news station to news station, interviewer to interviewer, ear to ear, in hopes that her voice will not only trump up support at home and abroad, but maybe make it to her son as well.
“I personally take many of these interviews because I think somehow… some news will filter through people…into Iran—and Josh will hear that his mother is talking out.”
To visit the families’ Web site for the hikers’, please visit FreeTheHikers.org.