Tag Archives: iran

4 Years After Iran Imprisonment: Remembering, Gratitude, and the Birth of a Boy Named Free

Rainbow - Guelph Lake
Rainbow (Farah N. Mawani/Farahway Global)

“Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Dreams really do come true.”

Four years ago, on July 31, 2009, my precious friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd were captured by the Iranian regime, while on a hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Three years ago, I felt the weight of their year held hostage, while centrally coordinating and promoting 40 events worldwide marking that challenging milestone. Two months after that, Sarah was freed. Two years ago, I awaited news of the final trial session for Josh and Shane, while centrally coordinating global events to mark an even more challenging to bear two years of imprisonment. A few weeks later, they were sentenced to eight years in Evin prison, Iran. Two months later, Josh and Shane were freed. One year ago, I wrote about the continued injustices the Iranian regime imposes on Masoud Shafi, the lawyer who fought at such great risk for Josh, Shane, and Sarah.

It’s hard to describe how intense the weight of that anniversary feels when it is loaded with so many traumatic associations. As I experienced during the prolonged ordeal, words are “woefully inadequate to describe my feelings.” My body, mind, and spirit, however, have been feeling this day approaching for some time. Often without me being fully conscious of it. A book on trauma, aptly titled, “The Body Remembers,” asserts “people who have been traumatized hold an implicit memory of traumatic events in their brains and bodies.” My body remembers.

Birth Announcement_080413It’s even harder to describe how miraculous it felt to hear the news of the birth of Josh and Jenny’s son, Isaiah Azad Fattal, in the midst of all that intensity. Right when I was thinking about how I could transform the anniversary into a positive one. Josh and Isaiah heard my request. Much like I felt Josh could hear me, when the Iranian regime imposed walls between us for more than two years. As I was longing to hear how he was after Isaiah’s birth, he heard me again. He sent me a message sharing how he felt, and asking me if I was “okay with posting” Isaiah’s birth announcement on our Free the Hikers Facebook page. Josh, Shane, Sarah, and I seek consensus from each other before posting on the page. We decided on that process together when they wanted to honor the immense time and energy I put into building the community on the page, and I wanted them to fully have their voices back.  I’m still honored every time Josh, Shane, and Sarah ask me if I support what they want to post. Of course I was far more than “okay with posting” Isaiah’s birth announcement!  I was especially grateful that Josh asked me to post it on his behalf.

It felt unbelievably thrilling and fulfilling to post it. That page represented so many things to me, and the Free the Hikers family, during the campaign. Integrated with our website, community blog, Twitter, and YouTube page, it was the “place where we could meet Josh, Shane, and Sarah across the abyss between us, and hold them close.” It was the place we mobilized others to join us on our journey to FREEDOM. It was the place where we sought support to keep our hope afloat. Every time I posted on the page, multiple times a day, for more than two years, I felt Josh, Shane, and Sarah with me. And we noticed every response, in the form of likes, comments, and shares, even when there were 32 000 supporters there. We felt our supporters, including many of you reading this, with us every step of the way.  

I remember our interactions and your multitude of actions, and carry them with me on my journey forward. I remember approaching Gotham, knowing he would understand, because he too had experienced a precious friend unjustly detained abroad – Laura Ling, who was freed from North Korea just days after Josh, Shane, and Sarah were captured. I was right – he responded promptly and compassionately. That time, and many other times when I asked him for support. As did Mallika, and Deepak, and those who work closely with them.  Laura Ling, Euna Lee (detained with her), and Laura’s sister Lisa, who had campaigned tirelessly for their freedom, reached out to offer us support, almost right after Laura and Euna were freed.  Even while consumed by our own crisis, I was astounded by that. Later in our campaign, I remember Laura reaching out at just the right time to let me know that when she was imprisoned, she could feel the vigils people held for them.  Giving me just the push I needed to keep going. And today, when I was feeling drained from the intensity of the past week, and the four years leading up to it, Gotham shared his blog post expressing his joy at the news of Isaiah’s birth. That gave me just the push I needed to complete mine.

Every gesture of support affects me profoundly. As I explained to a twitter supporter at the dawn of the four year anniversary, “Humanity in the face of inhumanity takes on extra special significance.”So, I am especially happy that Josh wanted to share Isaiah’s birth with you. Your support is what made it possible for Josh and Jenny to give birth to a beautiful boy with the middle name Azad, Farsi for FREE.  You sharing this joyous part of our journey with us means the world to me. Thank you. May Isaiah Azad Fattal embody the transformation of violence into peace for all of us.

“I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more
Than we’ll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world”

~ ‘Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole


From Iranian Prisoner to Fatherhood – Welcome to the World Baby Isaiah

Yesterday, my sister Mallika and I both got the coolest email from our friend Laura Fattal.

Quick rewind: About four years ago, Laura’s son Josh and his friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were taken into custody by Iranian border guards and accused of illegally crossing into Iran while hiking along the border. Over the subsequent two years, the three Americans became part of a high stakes international drama that resulted in their being charged with illegal entry and Josh and Shane convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. Sarah was released after 14 months on ‘humanitarian grounds’ while Shane and Josh’s terrifying ordeal lasted another year and finally came to an end in September of 2011 when they too were released after paying substantial fines.

Josh, Shane, and Sarah’s arrest was of course covered by the media, but as weeks stretched to months, and months eventually to years, their plight threatened to fade from public consciousness except for the efforts of Laura and an army of social media users she recruited and mobilized to keep her son and his friends’ struggle for freedom in the news. Mallika and I – and the Intent community on which we blogged – joined the effort as well and over the course of months worth of correspondence with Laura, formed a friendship and strong bond with her and her family. They inspired us with their relentless determination to use the power of information and technology to demand justice and the safe return of their loved ones. When Josh and Shane finally returned home bringing their long ordeal to a happy end, our entire family felt an emotional relief and pride for playing some tiny part in their safe redemption.

Which brings me back to yesterday and the email from Laura with the attached picture (which Laura and Josh approved our placing here) announcing the happy and healthy birth of Isaiah Azad Fattal to Josh and Jenny Fattal. Azad means “freedom” in Farsi, which to my mind is the most appropriate moniker baby Isaiah could possibly have.

Birth Announcement_080413_1pm-1

The great Indian Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore once said that “every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” I’ve looked at baby Isaiah’s picture several times today and smiled because to me too, his bright eyes are a reminder of the potential we yet have to remedy the world’s ills – in Iran, in the US, and everywhere else where human rights are abused, silence, or limited. So to Josh and Jenny and the entire Fattal Family – thank you from all the Chopras and the Intent family for the gift you have given all of us in your little miracle Isaiah. We feel pride and joy in seeing his precious being and know the world will be a better place simply because of his existence.

Please share your congratulations and warm thoughts with the family in the comments below!

20 Photos of Iranian Men Dressed in Drag to Support Gender Equality (Slideshow!)

Earlier in April, police in the Kurdish province of Marivan, Iran paraded a convicted criminal around the streets dressed in women’s clothing as a form of public humiliation. The episode outraged men and women throughout the area – not over the gender reversal in itself, but rather because femininity was being equated to shame and punishment.

Thus launched the “Kurd Men for Equality” campaign on Facebook, in which men began posting photos of themselves dressed in women’s garb with the caption, “Being a woman is not a way for humiliation or punishment.” Seventeen members of Iran’s parliament also signed a petition against this form of punishment, saying it was “humiliating to Muslim women.”

This comes from a part of the world where dress codes are strictly enforced according to conventional gender norms, which makes the campaign all the more impressive. Here are some of the quotes the men have posted on Facebook along with their photos:

Hoping for the day that sexuality, gender will not be a way of evaluating humanity.

“Woman” means “life”.

We should gather together and condemn this stupidity, brutality and inhumanity against women. This is the least I can do to support women.

Disgracing Kurdish women is disgracing an international community. Women are mothers, sisters, and life partners.

There lies such sanctity in woman’s clothing that not every man deserves to wear one.

Support the “Kurd Men for Equality” campaign by liking them on Facebook and sharing their story!

Yoga and Addiction: What It Took a Brush with Death to Learn

Can yoga stand in as an alternative to violence and addiction?

The latest episode of URBAN YOGIS on The Chopra Well features the story of a healer and recovering addict who discovered the path to recovery through yoga, meditation, and martial arts. Abdi was fifteen when he moved to New York City from Iran, and the city immediately overwhelmed him. The stress of life as an immigrant, on top of the struggles of being a teenager, eventually led Abdi to drugs and violence. He remembers thinking at one point that his lifestyle would either land him dead or in prison, but as it turned out, there was another path in store for him.

Many people refer to a single point of awakening at which recovery and transformation begin. It may be a near-death experience, a rite of passage, or even a poignant word from a friend that makes us pause and re-evaluate. For Abdi, the back-to-back deaths of several of his friends forced him to step back and take stock of the path he was on. Now, with nearly thirty years’ experience as a healer, Abdi can look back and see the pain and turmoil of his youth as the fodder for his spiritual awakening. As he says in his book, Shadows on the Path, “Pain is what puts us on the journey back to ourselves.”

In his daily work as an acupuncturist and trained shaman, Abdi interacts with patients who, like himself, have suffered from addiction. In fact in Abdi’s opinion all of us confront “the addictive system” throughout our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. “An addict,” he says, “can be anyone who uses a behavior to escape reality or to resist being in the moment.” By that definition, how many of us might be classified as television addicts, or exercise addicts, or reading addicts? How often are we thoroughly present in the moment – and when we aren’t, what are we doing instead?

What Abdi ultimately discovered is that practices like yoga, meditation, and martial arts can be instrumental in the healing process. These practices force us to stay in the moment. They defy numbing addictive patterns by bringing us back to our center, back to the moment. They force us to slow down and make conscious choices about our actions. Yoga, in particular, also encourages self-love by challenging us to find comfort and peace even in the most difficult of positions.

These practices became Abdi’s alternative to violence and addiction. Where the latter are unproductive and lead ultimately to destruction, Abdi found that yoga and meditation provided him with the tools to transform suffering into what he calls “the inner connection.” And once found, there is no need to return to old habits.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well for more inspiring episodes of URBAN YOGIS, every Monday!

Related Articles:

Is there a holistic treatment for addiction?

7 Steps to Dealing with Extreme Emotions

Teenage Yogis: Fostering Peace in the Face of Rising Violence

How I Went From 58 Pounds & Nearly Dead to Healthy, Happy, & Loving Life

Mothers of the Wrongfully Imprisoned: 7 Causes in 7 Days

My mother, Credit: Farah N. Mawani

Yesterday I celebrated Mother’s Day with my mother, my aunt (a ‘bonus’ mother as my friend puts it), my brothers, and my niece and nephew. We had a barbecue on a sunny deck overlooking a tree-filled park. It was a beautiful day with my family that I will always remember. Only a few years ago, we feared losing our mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Mother’s Day.  Last year we were able to celebrate the milestone of 5 years of remission with her. This year she looked stronger and healthier than ever, and in less than a month, my brother Zohrab is doing an epic two day bike ride to raise funds for the Princess Margaret Hospital, where she received treatment.

In the midst of our joy at simply being able to be with our mother, I couldn’t help reflecting on how I spent Mother’s Day last year and the year before: fighting for FREEDOM for my precious brother Josh Fattal, and my friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, held hostage by the Iranian regime for two years and two months. It was heartbreaking to be working closely with their mothers, Laura Fattal, Cindy Hickey and Nora Shourd, who were at the forefront of our Free the Hikers campaign but unable to even speak to Josh, Shane and Sarah over the phone on Mother’s Day.

On the first Mother’s Day during our campaign, Josh’s brother Alex sent this message:

“Hi Friends and Supporters of Shane, Sarah and Josh,

Today is a particularly tough day for our families as we are passing Mother’s Day without Shane, Sarah and Josh. We are shocked that over five months after their mothers applied for visas to visit them those visas have still not been issued.  Prisoners around the world are entitled to visits from family members. This egregious delay in issuing the visas is just one more right that Iran is denying the hikers.”

Credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew

I sent this message to Laura, Cindy and Nora:

 Hi Laura, Cindy and Nora,

When I last wrote to you I almost addressed you ‘Hi Moms’.  So of course I’m thinking of you today and wishing that your biggest Mother’s Day wish could be granted.  The CNN video is great and getting good circulation on twitter & facebook.

I do have a couple of positive support stories to share.

1. One of our twitter supporters wrote this blog post for you: Sad Mother’s Day for Families of Hikers Detained in Iran

She’s working hard to disseminate it on twitter and especially to urge people to take action.

2. You may already know that Safe World has decided to feature us on their home page. They have also created a ‘Film’ page for the two (soon to be three) films they’ve created about us.

I hope these supportive gestures provide you with some added support to reassure you that you are not alone in this. Many many supporters’ thoughts are with you today. I’ll keep letting you know of their supportive messages directed at you. I know that Sarah, Shane and Josh are sending you much love while feeling and admiring your strength across the miles. I share their admiration.



I expected very low traffic on our social media sites. It was a Sunday, generally a lower traffic day, and I assumed that most of our supporters would either be spending the day with their mothers or with their children.  Instead, it was one of our busiest days to date.  We were flooded with messages like these:

@fire_girl: @freethehikers celebrating the strength, resilience, courage & tenacity of #SSJ‘s moms this mothers day. you encourage & inspire many! #SSJ

@majorhissyfit: I have learned much abt motherhood from Nora, Cindy and Laura @freethehikers. Please keep them and their children in your hearts and prayers

I have no doubt that the immense support we received on Mother’s Day was largely responsible for Iranian authorities granting visas to Josh, Shane & Sarah’s mothers just two days later on May 11 2010 and enabling them to visit them on May 19, 2010.

Last year, the Iranian regime scheduled a trial session for Josh and Shane on May 11th. When Iranian authorities failed to bring Josh and Shane to court for that hearing, without any explanation, Laura Fattal and Cindy Hickey began a hunger strike in solidarity with their sons. People around the world, including the entire Chopra family, joined them in a solidarity fast.

No mother should have to go through what Laura, Cindy and Nora did. Unfortunately many continue to do so. This Mother’s Day I am working with the family of Jason Puracal, an American citizen wrongfully imprisoned in Nicaragua. His mother’s pain and loss intertwined with love and hope is evident in her words:

I had so hoped that having my son with me would be my Mother’s Day present.

It will be two years in a row now that I will not hear my son’s voice wishing me “Happy Mothers Day” or feel his warm bear hug.

A line from one of Deepak Chopra’s books comes to mind — “in our lives there is somebody out there.” Yes, there are more than 86,000 people plus the 43 members of our powerful legislative body that are showing love and support for my son, Jason. I can’t help but believe in the power of the collective consciousness and that this focused intention from so many has to trigger a transformation. I know my son shares this belief and is counting on it for his freedom. My heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes out to all of you.

I keep the hope that we will be reconciled by Nicaraguan Mother’s Day which occurs on May 27th. May that day come soon.

I hope that the support and action of people around the world buoys the spirits of Jason’s mother and family as they did over the holiday period. I hope even more that the collective intent, support and action triggers the transformation that Jason and his family need and deserve.

Freedom for All: 7 Causes in 7 Days

“Inclusion is the art of ensuring that people feel welcomed and celebrated for exactly who they are. This means that all differences (e.g. age, sexual orientation, class, faith, ability, gender identity size, ethnicity, etc), are viewed as unique gifts that an individual can offer to a group or community.” ~ Serena Belliveau-Townend, Grade 10, Carihi Secondary School, British Columbia

Traveling back to Canada from California yesterday was much more than a trip home from a wedding. It was a homecoming from a journey of almost three years.

So many of us around the world fought so hard for so long for Josh, Shane and Sarah to have the FREEDOM to do things that most of us take for granted; like the FREEDOM to get married.  And now they have that FREEDOM.

Having spent years speaking for them, fighting for them, because they did not have the FREEDOM to even do that, it has been difficult for me to absorb that they now have the FREEDOM to do so much more.  It was difficult for me to believe that Shane and Sarah’s wedding was not just a dream, like many FREEDOM dreams and visions I held onto to get me through the darkest days of their captivity.

But I did everything in my power to drink the dream in, to feel the FREEDOM coursing through my veins. There are still cracks and fissures in the FREEDOM dream that I struggle to understand. One thing, however, was very clear to me over the wedding weekend. Sarah, Shane and Josh are moving forward with their FREE lives. I no longer need to speak for them, fight for them, be there for them. I no longer have to have my ‘Free the Hikers’ identity consume all other parts of my life, all other aspects of who I am. I can finally live my life and speak for myself. I can BE myself.

During the campaign, I was a Muslim woman calling on what Shahla Khan Salter of Muslims for Progressive Values refers to as the ‘un-Islamic’ regime of Iran to FREE my friends. Now I find myself defending the human rights of my fellow Muslim women in Canada. On December 12, 2011, Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a new federal policy banning Muslim face coverings from Canadian citizenship ceremonies. I participated in Huffington Post Canada’s first of their Great Debate series, stating:

Completely banning Muslim face coverings is a very simplistic response to very complex issues. Rather than addressing the issues Kenney raises of “isolating and separating a group of Canadians,” such drastic policies, that don’t take complex contexts into account, further isolate and separate already marginalized groups. Rather than honouring “commitment to openness and social cohesion” such policies demonstrate a lack of commitment to openness and social cohesion.”

In an article I wrote in The Mark, I highlighted the mental health consequences of such exclusionary policies:

“This kind of discriminatory practice in Canada – sanctioned by, and, in fact, originating from, the government – has real and worrisome implications. Evidence from around the globe indicates that immigrants and refugees who experience racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination are at increased risk of developing mental-health issues and illness.

My own extensive research shows that this is especially true for immigrants and refugees who experience systemic discrimination at the hands of the Canadian government. This risk is magnified for those who have already been persecuted by governments in their countries of origin, as they may be re-traumatized by the experience of discrimination in Canada – especially when they reasonably assume that they have fled danger to settle in a safe new home.

It is not difficult to understand how the experience of being forced to remove a veil might impact a Muslim woman seeking citizenship in Canada. We know that Muslims face distinct risks in the context of the increasing Islamophobia around the globe since 9/11.”

I highlighted the incongruence of the discriminatory policy with the vision of inclusion of diversity outlined in the framework for Canada’s first mental-health strategy, released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) in 2009. Now I can further highlight the incongruence with the Mental Health Strategy itself, just released on Tuesday, May 8 2012.

Michael Kirby, Past Chair, David Goldbloom, Chair and Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the MHCC state:

“The publication of this document represents the fulfillment of a key element of the mandate that was conferred upon the Mental Health Commission of Canada by the Government of Canada in April 2007.”

The Strategy, “developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in close consultation with people living with mental health problems and illnesses, families, stakeholder organizations, governments, and experts” states:

Policy and approaches—on everything from child and youth services, to housing and social benefits, to the criminal justice system, to workplace health and safety— need to incorporate an understanding of what works best for the mental health of the population. Working to promote mental health and prevent mental illness should become an everyday activity across all sectors of society.

I hope that Canada’s federal government, particularly it’s Immigration Minister, heeds this call from a Commission it created to develop a Strategy it mandated.


This post is fifth in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post features one cause that I am currently working on and encourages you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.

Farahway Global, my initiative inspired by my Free the Hikers experience, is a non-profit organization that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. Now that I have spent such a significant part of my life fighting for freedom and justice, while not feeling free myself, I am compelled to continue my efforts to restore balance to the world through Farahway Global.

photo by: Ranoush.

Everywhere in Spirit: 7 Causes in 7 Days

“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.”
Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the Whole Sky.” ~ Hafiz

Credit: Farah N. Mawani

Today I make my way home to Toronto from California, where I attended the wedding of Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer, two of the Americans held hostage by the Iranian regime.

Their wedding was the culmination of 2 years and 2 months of a growing global movement calling for their release, including the entire Chopra family and many members of the Intent community. Some of the key figures leading that movement were present at the wedding. Many of us worked together intensively for the duration of the campaign, some of us communicating with each other multiple times each day. During the campaign I used to dream of an epic FREEDOM celebration, with all of us together sharing the joy of the final success of our unwavering  efforts. Some central figures were missing at this celebration though; figures without whom the celebration would not have been possible.

They were everywhere in spirit.

Credit: Farah N. Mawani

Masoud Shafii, the lawyer who took such great risks for their FREEDOM, was unable to travel to the wedding because the Iranian regime is now curtailing his FREEDOM to punish him for his inspirational work to free Sarah, Shane and Josh. He was represented at the wedding by some family members and I could feel his spirit in every word of Sarah, Shane and Josh. Alex Fattal, Josh’s brother without whom there would not have been a Free the Hikers campaign, is out of the country struggling to reclaim the entire life he had to sacrifice to fight for FREEDOM for Josh, Shane and Sarah. I felt him all around us, in the expanse of sky over us, the sun and breeze embracing us, and the crashing ocean waves below us.

As I start my journey home I think of them and all the key figures without whom I would not have been able to sustain my fight, without whom I wouldn’t even be breathing now. I think of the critical importance of peer support – informal support from peers who share our experiences. The Free the Hikers community was the community with whom I co-achieved FREEDOM for Josh, Shane and Sarah.

They were also my peer support group, who could understand my suffering and struggle like no one else could. Alex, who was there whenever I needed him for anything, even in the most traumatic crisis of his entire life; Josh and Alex’s parents Laura and Jacob who were family to me through our shared pain; Alita, our web guru, who was driven to fight for Sarah with the same fervor that drove me to fight for Josh; David Marcus, our webmaster, who put Shane’s FREEDOM before anything else, and thereby responded to my need to put Josh’s FREEDOM before anything else; Jen Miller, Sarah’s friend who was always ready to round up Bay area friends and supporters, with great compassion and skill; and my cousin Salina, my Wondertwin, who was and continues to be there for me for everything.

Former political prisoners Eric Volz, Roxana Saberi, and Laura Ling also provided me with support that no one else could, helping me to feel connected to Josh when I couldn’t communicate with him directly for such a prolonged time.

The critical importance of their support, along with that of other ‘peers’,  inspired me to get involved in the Toronto-based Self-help Resource Centre (SHRC), an organization that “strengthens communities across Ontario by promoting peer support groups that facilitate positive outcomes for people who are facing diverse life transitions and challenges.”  I became a Board Member partly to ensure the critical services they provide to so many are sustained, and partly to build greater capacity for them to promote peer support groups focused on trauma. I could have used a local such group when I was dealing with a workplace that did not understand or support my experience of trauma, despite being a national mental health organization. I could use such a local group now to help me make the transition from my campaign life and community to a Toronto-based life that is part of my journey forward. Given the growing diversity of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and North America, I imagine many others could benefit from peer support groups for trauma survivors.

I am making a donation to SHRC as a wedding gift for Shane and Sarah, to honor my many ‘peers’, including Intent community members, who made it possible for me to fight for their FREEDOM. Please join me in honoring them by donating here. Thank you immensely for your peer support for peer support.


This post is fourth in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post features one cause that I am currently working on and encourages you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.

Farahway Global, my initiative inspired by my Free the Hikers experience, is a non-profit organization that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. Now that I have spent such a significant part of my life fighting for freedom and justice, while not feeling free myself, I am compelled to continue my efforts to restore balance to the world through Farahway Global.

Crashing Waves of Emotion: 7 Causes in 7 Days

“Truth triumphs over untruth. Love conquers hatred.” ~ Gandhi

I started this 7 Causes in 7 Days blog series last week to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. The number 7 is significant in many cultures around the world, often considered lucky.  My birthday falls on November 7 and I was always told that being born on the 7th day of a month was considered very lucky in my community. So passing the 7 month of FREEDOM feels like an especially significant marker. It feels additionally significant because this past weekend, I attended the wedding for Sarah and Shane, with Josh as their best man.

Witnessing the realization of the vision Shane and Sarah had more than two years ago, while still held hostage in Iran, was as surreal as their capture and captivity.  The contrast to their captivity was dramatic: ALL outdoors with their ceremony and reception in a field surrounded by mountains, followed by brunch the next day on a beach overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific ocean.

It was surreal but synchronous, foreshadowed by a blog, “Synchronicity Gives Me Strength”, I posted in November 2010:

“There are so many parallels between the experiences and feelings of Sarah, Shane and Josh on the ‘other side’ of those seemingly insurmountable walls and ours on ‘this side’. There are so many examples of us knowing what they are feeling and vice versa, so many examples of us communicating across the abyss. We are two rivers of life, with intertwined tributaries, flowing alongside each other. Our rivers will meet and converge into the crashing waves of an ocean of collective emotion when Shane and Josh are freed.”

The crashing waves of emotion were certainly present within me. Unbelievable joy celebrating their FREEDOM to finally realize the vision they desired in January 2010, when it seemed like an impossible dream, crashing against deep pain over the absence of people who were central to the fight for their FREEDOM and their final release.  I felt additional pain over the inability of others facing grave injustices to engage in similar celebrations of reunion and union.

I thought of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall , a Canadian citizen wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for four years this month, and his wife Antonella Mega, who are unable to see each other let alone celebrate together.  Marina Nemat, former political prisoner and author of Prisoner of Tehran, connected me with Antonella, who I discovered was a neighbour of mine in Toronto. We have now spoken over the phone a few times and plan to meet in the near future.  When we first spoke, I was struck by the kindness, compassion and sensitivity in her voice. I was amazed to hear that come through despite her suffering an unimaginable heartbreak for an unimaginably long time.  I felt an immediate and deep connection with her because I can imagine her suffering and she can imagine mine more than most.  Anyone overhearing our conversations would assume that we have been close friends for many years. When I told her how I felt about our connection, she agreed right away, referring to it as “simpatico.”

When I told her I was going to be away for a few days for Sarah and Shane’s wedding, she gushed “Oh, that’s lovely! Please pass on my very best wishes to them. I am thinking of them as people around the world are thinking of them.” I am in awe of her ability to be so genuinely thrilled for them when she has been denied the ability to be with her beloved husband for so many years. Perhaps she knows, more than most people ever will, just how precious love is.

Please speak out for justice for Hamid and support Antonella in her long fight to bring her husband home where he belongs.

Take Amnesty International ‘s recommended URGENT ACTION  and urge Iranian authorities to stop the execution of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall.


Save an Innocent Man From Death: 7 Causes in 7 Days

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Farah Mawani, Founder, Farahway Global, and Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, Coordinator, Saeed Malekpour Campaign

The first political prisoner campaign I got involved in after Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released on September 21, 2011, was the Free Saeed Malekpour campaign. Saeed is a 36 year old Canadian permanent resident, who was arrested in Iran in October 2008, a few days after he had arrived from Canada to visit his ill father.  Saeed’s father died from a brain tumor shortly after Saeed was imprisoned.

Saeed was sentenced to death on October 2010. The only evidence used to condemn Saeed to death are false confessions he gave two years ago while subjected to physical and psychological torture. Iran’s Supreme Court subsequently repealed his death sentence due to discrepancies in his case file. The Supreme Court mandated the Revolutionary Court to conduct a full judicial review into the discrepancies. Despite that ruling, the Revolutionary Court reinstated Saeed’s death sentence in November 2011, and the Supreme Court upheld it.

According to Ann Harrison, Amnesty International‘s interim Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa,

“By confirming Saeed Malekpour’s death sentence after an unfair trial, the Iranian authorities are sending a message to Iranians not to freely express their views, or even to help others to do so, including on the internet.”

Credit: Free Saeed Campaign

I learned of the renewed urgency of Saeed’s case from Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, based on her experience of being arrested in Iran at age 16 and imprisoned for two years. I met her at a moving talk she gave in Toronto about “living through trauma, and the power of telling one’s story.”

I bought her first book during the imprisonment of Josh, Shane and Sarah, but could not bring myself to read it.  I was traumatized enough knowing that Josh was being held hostage in Evin prison that I feared what knowing the details of his imprisonment would do to me.  I feared being in so much pain that I would be unable to fight for his freedom.

It was very healing for me to feel such an instant connection with Marina because of our overlapping experiences, and to hear her great joy about the final freedom for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for them through our intense pain. She urged me to get involved in the campaigns of Canadian citizens and permanent residents on death row in Iran.  As a Canadian citizen myself, speaking out for fellow Canadians, felt like a necessary next step.

Marina connected me with Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a human rights activist who coordinates the campaign to free Saeed.  Maryam and I also connected very easily through our overlapping experiences and shared passion for justice. She too was compelled to fight for Saeed as a fellow Canadian. She told me that she was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from my experience with the Free the Hikers campaign.  It was heartwarming for me to hear that something constructive could come from such a traumatic time for me. It was even more heartwarming for me to hear her say,

“The release of Sarah, Shane, and Josh from Evin gave me hope that we could do the same for Saeed and the hundreds of others unlawfully imprisoned in Iran.”

 Soon after I started sharing news about Saeed’s case on my online platforms, I received a joint invitation from Maryam and the International Centre for Human Rights in Iran (ICHR) to speak at a rally for Saeed outside the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa.

Ardeshir Zarezadeh (right) stands beside fellow activists at rally for Saeed outside Iranian Embassy, Ottawa

When I asked Ardeshir Zarezadeh, Executive Director of ICHR, to explain what compels him to fight for Saeed, he cited the false accusations and grave injustices against Saeed, along with his grossly unfair trial and false confessions made under torture. It was clear that he has grown accustomed to defending Saeed. I sensed that he was driven by something much more personal, as so many in the Iranian diaspora are. I asked if he was comfortable sharing his personal motivations. He told me that he knew what being imprisoned in Iran felt like. He was arrested 12 times and spent two years in solitary confinement there.

 “I was in jail and I know how hard it is staying in solitary confinement and being tortured for false confession. When a prisoner gets tortured while in a cell without any connection [to the outside world], its the end of their world.”

I fought with every cell in my body to ensure that Josh, Shane and Sarah knew they were not alone and I am compelled to do the same for Saeed. As I said in my statement outside the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa,

“Like Josh, Shane and Sarah, Saeed needs us to be the voice that is being stolen from him. He needs us to fight for the human rights he is being denied.  He needs us to fight for his life. The life that will be taken from him if we are silent.”

Please add your voice to mine.  Please contact the Prime Minister of Canada and ask him to intervene in Saeed Malekpour’s case. Join Farahway Global on Facebook and Twitter for further calls for action and the latest updates regarding his case.

Thank you.

This post is the second in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post will feature one cause that I am currently working on through Farahway Global and encourage you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.

7 Causes in 7 Days: Justice for a Justice Defender

“For to be FREE is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

~ Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s wise words capture what felt so impossible to explain over the past few years; what inspired my dedication to fight for freedom for my dear friends, Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. When they were freed and thanked me profusely I had to try to explain, “What happened to you was so wrong, so unjust, that I had to restore balance to the world somehow.”

Ed’s Note: If you’re not familiar with the Free the Hikers campaign, you can read about it and the backstory behind Josh, Shane, & Sarah’s two year imprisonment in Iran here. You can also read Farah’s previous blogs about her personal experience during the campaign here.

Credit: Press TV

I felt a kinship with Masoud Shafii (Sarah, Shane & Josh’s lawyer in Iran) from the start, because I could sense across continents and oceans that he was driven by the same conviction. I could feel his solidarity. Nevertheless he made sure to communicate it frequently, asking Josh, Shane and Sarah’s families to thank me for everything I was doing. He understands me better than anyone involved in the campaign. We share the experience of facing injustices directly resulting from our unwavering fight for justice for Josh, Shane and Sarah.

I deal with ongoing threats and harassment by Iranian agents; lack of understanding and support of workplaces; lack of understanding of some family, friends and people I interact with every day; the loss of significant relationships; and extreme financial hardships. All that is an unjust burden to bear, but Mr. Shafii faces much greater restrictions to his freedom, much greater threats to his well-being, much greater injustice. To punish him for his work to free Josh, Shane and Sarah, the Iranian regime has confiscated his passport. He cannot travel freely and is prohibiting him from practicing law. As Sarah recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “He was just doing his job.”  And doing it so well.

Josh recently shared his thoughts about Mr. Shafii with me.

“Courage, integrity, and intelligence. Three words that come to mind when I think of him standing in front of the Revolutionary Courts defending me. I remember the soft persistence of his voice, the truth in his handshakes and the presence in his eyes. A true cosmopolitan and a man, like every citizen, who should be free to work and to travel in liberty–that is, Masoud Shafii.”

Josh’s reflection validated the connection we shared on the opposite sides of an insurmountable wall.  Or perhaps it’s just a testament to Mr. Shafii’s courage, integrity, and intelligence – they are evident to everyone, even through impermeable borders.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

Since Shane and Josh were released, Free the Hikers supporters have offered to fight for justice for the man who sacrificed so much to fight for justice for Josh, Shane and Sarah. We have been cautious, however, in our actions out of concern for Mr. Shafii, but the time has come for us to speak out and tell the Iranian regime that we will not stand by while they commit injustices to the courageous justice defender for Josh, Shane and Sarah. Please join Free the Hikers on Facebook and Twitter to build support for Mr. Shafii, and to stay informed of further actions you can take to fight for the freedom he so deserves.


This post is the first in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post will feature one cause that I am currently working on and encourage you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.

Farahway Global, my initiative inspired by my Free the Hikers experience, is a non-profit organization that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. Now that I have spent such a significant part of my life fighting for freedom and justice, while not feeling free myself, I am compelled to continue my efforts to restore balance to the world through Farahway Global.

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