Tag Archives: Josh Fattal

Free Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof John Greyson From Wrongful Imprisonment in Egypt

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On World Humanitarian Day, I think of all the remarkable people who risk their lives to save the lives of others. I celebrate their contributions, and mourn the violence, imprisonment, suffering and loss of life many of them have had to endure while trying to make the world a better place for all of us. I think of their family and friends who love and admire them so greatly, they tirelessly support them, fight for them, defend their human rights, and often suffer grave consequences to their own health and lives in doing so.

I think especially of family and friends of Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof. John Greyson, arrested by Egyptian authorities on Friday, August 16, 2013. They are experiencing a horror, far too similar to the horror I experienced almost exactly four years ago, when my precious friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, were captured by the Iranian regime. Dr. Loubani is an emergency room physician in London, ON, and John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, in Toronto, ON. Both have long-standing admirable records of global humanitarian work.

I have worked with Dr. Loubani, and Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care to advocate for health care for refugees in Canada, collaborating in a National Day of Action just two months ago. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care released the following statement:

“Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care is deeply concerned by news that one of its members, prominent London, Ontario emergency physician Dr. Tarek Loubani has been arrested in Egypt. Dr. Loubani was in Egypt providing volunteer health services and was arrested along with a colleague, York University Professor John Greyson. Egyptian authorities should be aware of Dr. Loubani’s extensive work providing medical treatment to people in need in the Middle East. He is also well respected in Canada for assisting refugees — including refugees from the Middle East — in securing public health care in this country.”

York University has released this statement:

“York University is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, as well as Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ontario, who have been detained in Cairo, Egypt.”

According to the Facebook group launched by family and friends, “Tarek and John were in Cairo on their way to Gaza, where Tarek was to participate in a medical collaboration that has been established between the University of Western Ontario and the Emergency Department of Al Shifa Hospital (Gaza’s largest hospital), and where John, a professor at York University’s Department of Film, intended to conduct preparatory work for a film project.”

Justin Podur, a close friend and colleague of Dr. Loubani and Prof Greyson, elaborates that Dr. Loubani was traveling to Gaza as part of a group of Canadian doctors “to train physicians there in advanced cardiac and trauma life support.” Prof. Greyson joined him to “explore the possibility of a film project about the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.”

On World Humanitarian Days 2010 and 2011, I fought to build global support for the freedom of humanitarians Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, held hostage by the Iranian regime for 2 years and 2 months. As WHD 2013 approached, I was preoccupied with the fourth anniversary of the day Josh, Shane, and Sarah were captured. Though I was not always conscious of it, my body, mind, and spirit felt the anniversary approaching. My trauma symptoms increased, I felt a sense of foreboding…my body remembered what I went through four years ago, and each annual anniversary of their captivity.

Now, I am experiencing a déjà vu I would prefer not to. I am compelled to campaign to prevent Dr. Loubani and Prof. Greyson, and all their loved ones, from experiencing the unnecessarily protracted and painful detention we did. I call on Egyptian authorities to free them and enable them to continue their critical humanitarian work. I call on the Canadian government to ensure that happens without further delay. And I call on you to keep up the global call for their freedom.

Please sign this petition, and join this Facebook Group to stay informed of progress, calls for action, and a Facebook Page and website coming soon. Every action you take makes a difference to their spirits, the ability of their loved ones to keep fighting, and ultimately to their freedom. I know from experience.

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Note: A website has just been launched for the latest news and calls for action. Please share it far and wide.

Re-posted from Huffington Post

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.

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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!

I Can See Clearly Now: Recovering from PTSD

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars”

~ Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, June 26, was the United Nations International Day In Support of Victims of Torture.  I spent the days leading up to it reflecting on psychological torture, and particularly the impact of psychological torture on me.  Although it is difficult to delve into, I want to share some of that experience. I hope it will increase global understanding of the devastating impact of psychological torture, the remarkable courage of those who face it, and the support people need on their journeys of recovery.

My 9 month journey since my precious brother, Josh Fattal, was released after 2 years and 2 months of being held hostage by the Iranian regime, has not been an easy one. I continue to struggle to recover the very full life I once led and to transform the heart shattering experience into something positive.

According to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984, art. 1, para.1),

“[T]he term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

In a Physicians for Human Rights report entitled ‘Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces,‘ ‘psychological torture’ is defined as ‘‘severe mental pain or suffering…including threats of death or injury and the administration or application or threatened administration or application of “procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”

Josh, Shane and Sarah clearly experienced severe pain and suffering, carried out by Iranian public officials, for a specific purpose – to blackmail the American government.  Their loved ones also experienced severe mental pain and suffering, initially from the Iranian regime not acknowledging that they had captured them for weeks, and then from more than two years of constant threats to their lives and safety in the context of extremely limited communication with them and limited information about their well-being and ultimate fate.  The psychological torture intensified each time the Iranian regime made a promise and then reneged on it, including multiple trial dates they cancelled at the last minute.  We felt like we were on an extreme roller-coaster ride, with highs and lows like none we had ever experienced.  Though I fought as hard as I could to FREE Josh, Shane and Sarah, throughout, that seemingly never-ending traumatic journey had dire consequences for me.

In an article in The Lancet, Christy Fujio from Physicians for Human Rights, states “The Iranian Government wants to break peoples’ spirits, they want to set an example…The Iranian Government has deliberately fostered an intense climate of fear in order to oppress the population and quiet voices of dissent”. Agents of the Iranian regime have continued to harass and threaten me since Josh and Shane were freed on September 21, 2011.

On June 26, I started my day by forgetting my keys in my door because I was so stressed about a meeting with a mentor, to discuss how to complete my PhD thesis in the context of my healing psychological scars.  I expected her to be supportive and helpful, but facing the fact that I had to take an extended leave from my almost complete PhD, while Josh was held hostage, is painful and difficult. It is especially challenging because I have to deal with the numerous consequences of that leave, while still recovering from 2 years and 2 months of psychological torture inflicted by the Iranian regime. It is also very difficult for me to trust that authority figures have my interests at heart, after Iranian authorities inflicted psychological torture on Josh, Shane, Sarah and their loved ones, including me.

Despite the challenges, the meeting went well and I feel a renewed determination to complete my PhD against all obstacles. I went directly to an official event to mark June 26, that was a perfect segue into my journey forward. ‘Journey of Hope’ was hosted by the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), a Toronto-based centre within a global network of such centres, that offered me critical support and advice during Josh’s captivity in Iran. They not only understood and validated my experience, but demonstrated great wisdom in their advice to me; wisdom clearly gained from extensive experience with people in similar situations to mine.

One of the key elements in my journey of hope is calm. I seek calm spaces and calm communication.  Communication that is not calm does not feel safe. It heightens my anxiety levels and pushes me to isolate myself for safety. I first noticed my heightened need for calm during Josh, Sarah and Shane’s captivity. I had a heightened sensitivity to noise, anger and unkindness. That was a significant part of the standard response I drafted for abusive comments on our Free the Hikers campaign Facebook page:

“Thanks to all for your comments. What we need now more than ever is your support in getting Sarah, Shane and Josh released. Peaceful communication is most supportive to us during this intensely challenging time, especially as it honors the values that Sarah, Shane and Josh hold so dear.”

This need was echoed in a comment from a child client that a CCVT counselor shared at the ‘Journey of Hope’ event: “You are kind because you don’t yell.”

My search for safe space has been a challenging one.  During Josh’s captivity, I worked in an extremely psychologically unsafe environment that made dealing with the trauma far more difficult than it already was. It took me time to acknowledge and ask for the support I needed, because of course I was focused on Josh’s far more dire needs for safety.  When I did ask for what I needed, my workplace did not acknowledge, let alone accept my multiple formal accommodation requests. Despite the intense global publicity about the case and my connection to it, they blatantly denied my experience, telling me “We don’t buy it.” They consistently put me in work spaces that re-traumatized me (tiny, dark spaces, with no view of a window, reminiscent of the prison cell that was constantly on my mind because Josh was trapped in it), until I had to take a leave from work due to complex trauma/PTSD.

For the year and a half since then, it has been extremely difficult to secure a calm and safe space for myself because Great-West Life, my employee health insurance company, has not paid me any of the long-term disability payments they owe me.  They, like my former employer, treat me with mistrust despite the public nature of my battle and the extensive documentation from multiple health professionals I have provided them with. Shockingly, as journalist Jan Wong recently revealed in her memoir on workplace depression, such tactics are common practices among Canadian health insurance companies, particularly for avoiding disability payments for mental health issues.

Without the disability payments I am owed, I have been forced to move from temporary place to temporary place, while longing for the space I need. Though still experiencing extreme financial hardship, just last week I moved into my own space.  When I found it, I knew it was the right space because I didn’t want to leave. When I moved in, one of my first thoughts was, “I can think clearly now.” I have the high ceilings, large windows and accessible outdoor space that I longed for. I don’t feel imprisoned, as I did in the workspace I was forced into for so long. Watching and listening to the breeze blow through the trees my place overlooks takes me to the tropical Kenyan coast of my childhood. It fills me with a sense that I am going to be all right.

As Johnny Nash sings:

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-shiny day.”

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.

Love,

Farah

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.

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.

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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.

 

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.

Message From Sarah Shourd, Fiancée of Hiker Shane Bauer Still Detained In Iran

Dear Intent Community,

Thank you immensely for your support for my freedom. I ask you to stand with me to continue the fight for freedom for Shane & Josh, who we fear are on a hunger strike to protest their unjust imprisonment. On Thursday, their mothers started a rolling hunger strike in solidarity with them. I joined them on Saturday, the Chopra family joined us on Sunday, and many others around the world will join us in the coming weeks until Shane and Josh are freed.
 
Beginning my fast today makes me think of all the selfless things they both did for me while I was in prison. Once, I mentioned to Josh that I had been wearing the same shirt for 11 months and it had holes in it. I was angry that the guards hadn’t given me a new shirt. The next day, Josh came out with his extra shirt and gave it to me. He had two shirts and he gave me the blue one, his favorite. Another time, for Valentine’s Day, Shane used the last two pieces of chocolate that he had been saving for months and made me “prison pie” out of crushed cookies, butter, dates and chocolate. It was delicious. These acts of love defended us against the constant pain of separation from our families and the extreme physical and mental restriction of being imprisoned.

Now that I’m free, all I want is to give back to Shane and Josh for what they did for me. Their love got me through prison and it’s our love that will bring them home. 

Please join me, Shane, Josh, their families, friends and people around the world in fasting for their http://bit.ly/SSJfast

All my gratitude for your support, 

Gotham Chopra and Mallika Chopra: Fasting to Free The Hikers

By Gotham Chopra and Mallika Chopra

We have never met Shane Bauer or Josh Fattal – 2 young men who have been imprisoned for almost 2 years deep in the black hole that is Iran’s notorious Evin prison. We haven’t met Shane’s fiancé, Sarah Shourd, who arrived home from her captivity last year, nor have we met their families and friends who have been suffering unbearably all along.

And yet, we feel connected to them – because, this nightmare that they are living in could be happening to us, to our family. These are two young men who found themselves in the wrong place by accident and are being used as pawns in an international chess game.
We do not know them, yet we feel connected because injustice anywhere, against anyone – be it in a third world nation, a first world nation (believe us, it’s happening here in the US), or a rogue nation – is an affront against all of humanity.
Today, at this very moment hundreds of thousands – probably millions – of human beings are being wrongfully imprisoned around the world. And therein lies the problem. There is no reliable number, because for every Shane and Josh whose captivity has created headlines to some degree, there are hundreds more ghosts toiling away in rotting cells across the planet.
And that’s why Josh and Shane’s situation is so important.
Because we do know about them. We can Google Earth their locations. We can identify their captors, if even those captors themselves have interminably dragged out their judicial system and failed to abide by any standard of justice.  We can urge our own government to do something to bring these boys home.
See Josh and Shane have faces, faces we can link to families. But there are millions of others that are caught in the invisible world of indifference, left behind in a world so desperate to evolve and network and tweet, but who still quietly accept the primitive and tribal behavior of imprisoning innocent people for power, leverage, and politicking.
Yesterday, our family – Gotham, Mallika, Deepak, Rita, and Candice and some of our extended family and friends from New Delhi to New York City and more – observed a day of fasting in solidarity with Josh and Shane’s courageous mothers who embarked on a hunger strike last Thursday.
We fasted in solidarity with the Bauer and Fattal families, but also for ourselves. Perhaps to feel that we were doing something – anything – to support innocent people being denied freedom.
And, while we were happy to do whatever we could to bring some small measure of attention to their plight, sadly, we know a 1 day fast is nearly not enough.
Because, nothing will be enough until Josh and Shane are home in their mothers’ embrace.

 

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