"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
I will forever be grateful for Josh, Shane and Sarah’s FREEDOM. After fighting for their FREEDOM for 2 years and 2 months, I can only write the word in capitals. Through the struggle for it, I have come to realize how central it is to life. It is impossible to feel FREE oneself, when the FREEDOM of loved ones is curtailed.
I am still acutely aware of Josh, Shane and Sarah’s acts of FREEDOM – their ability to send emails and texts, make phone calls, post tweets and facebook messages, and most importantly BE with their loved ones, connect directly with their global supporters and choose their life paths. Being able to advise them on social media and public engagement, and helping them launch their own social media voices is beyond what I was able to imagine when they were captive and unable to communicate via any means.
I also feel immense gratitude to them for inspiring me to fight for their FREEDOM and that of others, and to do so lovingly and peacefully. Their strength, wisdom and compassion continue to inspire me every day as we recover from the trauma of the past two years and carve a new path forward. After more than two years of working so hard to represent them and be their voices, being able to work with them directly to carve a path forward together is an indescribable reward. It is a reward that I would not have without the hard work of the Free the Hikers team nor the unwavering compassion and support of my family, friends and supporters around the world.
The Free the Hikers team was formed and grew organically as family, friends and supporters of Josh, Shane and Sarah came together to fight for their FREEDOM. I am so thankful for Josh’s family, who welcomed me as one of their own, expressed remarkable care and compassion for me at the most painful time of their lives, and inspired me with their incredible and unshakeable strength, courage and resilience. I am especially thankful for Josh’s brother Alex, who was a lifeline for me.
Alita Holly, an old family friend of Sarah’s, became a sister to me as we worked together through our shared trauma to build Free the Hikers’ online presence. Alita’s remarkable creativity and technical skills were the perfect complement to my passion for engaging and mobilizing people. She built the tools I used to engage people around the world, and she continues to be there for me during this challenging time of transition.
David Marcus, a friend of Shane’s, held up the website fort so beautifully, even when his second daughter was born. He was always such a pleasure to work with and share joys and frustrations with. It was especially comforting to be able to share New York City campaign events with him in person. Helaine Alon, a friend of Josh’s, made it possible for me to centrally coordinate global vigils and events for Sarah, Shane and Josh.
Former students of Josh and I were there throughout the painful ordeal, to remind me of the community and history we share with Josh. Many of them contributed immensely to the campaign even as they were going through many important and challenging transitions in their own lives. It gives me great pleasure to hear of them gradually reuniting with Josh, and I long for us all to have a big joint reunion soon.
I am most proud of, touched by and grateful for the diversity of support we built together. We had unwavering, loving support from The Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti, and her colleagues. We also had a fearless Iranian lawyer, Mr.Masoud Shafii, who risked his own life and safety to fight for justice. We are very saddened that the Iranian regime is now restricting his freedom by confiscating his passport and preventing him from traveling freely.
We also had support from global leaders (e.g. Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon), political leaders (e.g President Obama, Sec of State Hillary Clinton, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Presidents of Iraq, Turkey, Brazil, and Venezuela), high profile public figures (e.g. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky), celebrities (e.g. Sean Penn, Mia Farrow, Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Islam, Deepak Chopra and his family), international organizations (e.g. Safe World for Women, careif, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Witness), Online communities (e.g. Intent.com, care2), and people all over the world. People of all ages, from different cultural and religious backgrounds, with different political beliefs came together with the common goal of freeing Sarah, Shane and Josh. They supported us by organizing events, donating funds, wearing FTH t-shirts and jewelry, signing petitions, writing letters, creating banners, posters joining us on Facebook, twitter and YouTube and spreading the word about Sarah, Shane and Josh. I would not have been able to do any of what I did without them nor my family and friends.
My sister Salina was and continues to be a lifeline for me. She is there for everything I need, from invaluable assistance with Free the Hikers social media accounts and global events, to a shoulder to cry on, to someone to share the joys of FREEDOM with. I am thrilled that she wants to take what we learned and built together forward together.
My mother provided unconditional and immense love and support throughout the ordeal and was the one person in my physical environment who had spent time with Josh, and understood the magnitude of his loss, and was incensed by the injustice against him. She also felt great compassion for the suffering of Josh’s family, and a special protectiveness of Alex.
I am also grateful to my two brothers as the profound impact of my prolonged separations from each of them during our very early childhood, drove me to do everything in my power to reunite Josh and Alex, and to be there for them in whatever ways I could during their heartbreaking separation. My niece and nephew amazed me with their ability to understand the gravity of the injustice and the pain it was causing me enough to take whatever actions they could, despite their very young ages.
Countless other family and friends of mine, and family, friends and supporters of Josh, Shane and Sarah were there for me just when I needed them most; with energy for campaign action, kind words, or a home to share. From Karen Leigh, who reached out daily from all corners of the world, and wrote articles that so aptly captured the pain and loss experienced by Josh's loved ones, to Stephanie McCabe, who helped me to realize my vision of our film, “Josh Fattal: 444 Days in Iran…and counting”, to Karim Bardeesy, who wrote editorials about Sarah, Shane and Josh in our National newspaper, the Globe and Mail. I am especially appreciative of friends of Josh, Shane and Sarah, who are stepping in now to express gratitude, offer me emotional support and share this transformative journey.
Sharing this incredible journey with all of you is something I’ll never forget. Every supportive action and communication of yours has moved me and given me the strength to keep up the fight - and has made it possible for me to be reunited with Josh, Shane and Sarah. Endless thanks to all of you for that. You have changed my life. I hope that you can all feel the gratitude I express to you directly and indirectly every day.
Like Sarah, Shane and Josh, I hope that we can continue to support each other and work together for change.
Co-founder and Online Organizer
Free the Hikers