MINNEAPOLIS – Family members of the two Americans still held in Iran on espionage charges called the postponement of their trial until Feb. 6 an unwanted delay and stressed they were not looking forward to spending a second holiday season without their loved ones.
"It's unbearable for my parents. It's unbearable for all our families, and it needs to end," Alex Fattal said Monday. His brother, Josh, along with Shane Bauer and Bauer's fiance, Sarah Shourd, were arrested by Iran near its border with Iraq in July 2009 and accused of espionage. Bauer and Fattal remain jailed in Tehran more than two months after Shourd was released on medical grounds.
Shourd and the families say the three were on an innocent hike, but Iran accuses them of espionage — and the case has become a point of confrontation in the troubled U.S.-Iran relationship. Masoud Shafiei, the Tehran-based attorney representing the Americans, said Sunday that he was notified of the Feb. 6 trial date — two weeks after a previous trial date of Nov. 6 was abandoned.
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, said family members don't put much confidence in new trial dates since the case has seen so many delays. Hickey and Alex Fattal both said the families are particularly dreading the advent of another holiday season without their loved ones.
"It's taking a huge toll on everyone," said Hickey, who lives near Pine City, Minn. She said her son's younger sisters have both suffered recent health problems they believe are caused or exacerbated by stress.
Alex Fattal, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard University who put his studies on hold, said last Thanksgiving was for him one of the two worst days of his brother's entire captivity. The other was the day last May when he learned the three prisoners would not be released to come home with their visiting mothers.
"I'm very much not looking forward to another Thanksgiving without them," Fattal said. "We really hope a trial won't be necessary and they'll be released on humanitarian grounds. This truly has gone on far too long."
Sarah Shourd, who lives in the San Francisco area, did not immediately return a request for comment made through a spokeswoman. Iranian officials had indicated the latest delay was because Shourd had not yet been summoned to return for a trial.
Hickey, who speaks to Shourd daily, said Shourd hadn't decided if she would return to Tehran for a trial if she is summoned at some point.
"We make our decisions moment by moment so until the moment arrives we haven't come to a conclusion about that," Hickey said.
Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd, has had her own health problems since her daughter's return. Nora Shourd underwent gall bladder surgery in late October but suffered what Hickey described as serious complications. She said Nora Shourd is still hospitalized almost four weeks later and still unable to eat on her own.
"She's still very concerned for Shane and Josh, of course, and that's not helping her recovery," Hickey said.
Hickey said the families are still waiting for phone calls from Bauer and Fattal that officials with Iran's mission to the United Nations had offered earlier this month. Their lawyer has not been allowed to meet with Bauer and Fattal since Shourd's release in mid-September.
"We're going to try to get through the holidays as best we can," Hickey said. "We hope this is over before the holidays are."