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Detained US hikers in Iran: Help bring them home

Grass-roots efforts helped save the journalists in North Korea. It can help save the three American hikers detained in Iran.

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The case of Euna Lee and Laura Ling show how crucial the media can be in winning freedom for detainees. The two US journalists faced stiff prison sentences for “illegal entry” into North Korea. President Kim Jong Il pardoned them, but only after winning a high-profile photo op with former president Bill Clinton. The world was watching. And that was the prize bargaining tool.

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The most important lesson? The role of grass-roots support in raising awareness about their plight should not be underestimated. Prior to their trial and sentencing in early June, friends and family of Laura and Euna turned out thousands of people to vigils held in eight major cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington – drawing live coverage from CNN of the vigils. The campaign to free them accelerated, and the number of reports on their plight grew. It generated momentum among political elites and ultimately culminated with their high-profile release in August.

In mid-November, numerous media outlets reported that the three US hikers would stand trial on espionage charges in the near future. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has responded by stating that the charges brought against the three Americans detained in Iran are totally unfounded. The State Department has maintained that the hikers pose no threat to Tehran and have appealed to the Iranian leadership to release them.

Sometimes when American journalists are taken hostage, the media are encouraged to keep quiet about the situation in an effort to let the back channels work. Some argue that bringing too much media attention to a hostage crisis could escalate the situation. However, in this case, it has been 150 days since their detainment, and greater public support and awareness seems to be the only thing left to help their plight.

The family and friends of Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd are doing the right thing by mobilizing communities across the country in solidarity in the same way as those who supported Laura and Euna to advocate for their release.

As soon as the American people learn of their plight, the probability of their release increases. Write your senators, e-mail news outlets looking for information on them, sign a petition to the Iranian government, spread the word. When grass-roots efforts gain traction, the media follows. Every little bit helps.

Clarence Tong is a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School and was Josh Fattal’s classmate in the Cheltenham High School Class of 2000. You can find more information about the three detained American hikers at


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