Helping the Hikers

The notion that three American hikers could innocently wander across the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iran has elicited some understandable skepticism. But a statement from their friend who stayed behind in his hotel because he was ill helps explain how the situation unfolded. 

Shon Meckfessel, whose statement is here, traveled with his friends Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal to Kurdistan on vacation. That may sound odd, but actually this is a beautiful and relatively safe region where Americans are welcome. You also have to keep in mind that Shane was a journalist and correspondent based in Damascus, Syria. He told his editor, Sandy Close at New America Media, that he was interested in covering the post-election events in the region.

Shane and his companions–all of whom had an interest in writing or photography–may have documented what they observed in Kurdistan, but the hike that apparently took them across the Iranian border was solely recreational, according to Shon’s statement. One of CPJ’s researchers is from the region where the three were hiking and told me that the border is not clearly marked.

There is no evidence that that the three hikers were pursuing journalism when they were detained, but it is important to reiterate that they were in the region as journalists and writers and that Shane was accomplished reporter with some prominent bylines. CPJ’s goal is speaking publicly about the case is simply to make this point as clearly as we can, to dispel the obvious and mounting concern that the Iranians may view them as spies.