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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Anti-War
200 days in Iranian prison for Berkeley Students
Today, they marked the 200th day of their friends captivity in an Iranian prison. Origami cranes, prayer flags and a 5-foot heart of woven willow branches marked a somber ceremony in Berkeley
Members and friends of three UC Berkeley graduates who have been held in Iran since hiking across the border from Iraq commemorated their 200 day 9in captivity in a moving ceremony in Berkeley
"Our lives have turned upside down," said Karen Sandys of Berkeley, whose niece, Sarah Shourd, is one of the detained hikers. "It feels surreal. We never thought it would last this long."
Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, all recent UC Berkeley graduates, were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan July 31 when they crossed the Iranian border and were arrested under suspicion of spying.
Friends said they were backpacking to see a waterfall during a break from teaching jobs in Damascus. If they stumbled across the border, the friends said, it was purely by accident.
The hikers' families received some good news last week, when Iran's top human rights official recommended that the families be allowed to visit the hikers in prison.
The families are now working on obtaining visas, Miller said.
Meanwhile, the hikers' families and friends have juggled their lives, consumed with anxiety and knowing at any moment they might need to board a plane.
"Not having any information is the worst," said Sandys. "What you can imagine is far worse than any details we get."
Jobs and school are on hold, nights are sleepless and days are filled with vigils, press releases and frantic calls to the State Department.
Shourd's mother moved from Oakland to Minnesota to be closer to Bauer's family. Others have dropped out of school and quit jobs.
"This has been a totally transformative experience for me," said Tegra Fisk, Fattal's girlfriend, who relocated from Oregon to Oakland to be nearer to Shourd's and Bauer's friends. "All we can do is send love and support and have hope. If you focused on the fear, you'd go crazy."
At today's vigil, the hikers' friends told stories, wrote letters and hoisted the willow-branch heart between a pair of eucalyptus trees on the UC Berkeley campus.
Burning sage sticks and Mexican tree resin, the group of about a dozen said they hope this is the last vigil they'll need to hold for their friends.
"So much is not known, there's been a real combination of sadness and frustration," said Jennifer Miller, a friend of the hikers. "But these are some of the strongest people we know, so there's a sense of hope. I'm sure they're thinking of what book they can write from this."