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A Long Road Home for American Hikers Held in Iran

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Ronda Kaysen: The American mothers rushed to their children, who were standing in a Tehran hotel lobby. They hugged them, swaying, rocking, kissing their faces and clutching their bouquets of flowers. This was their first contact with the three American hikers -- their kids! -- who were arrested nine months ago for crossing the Iran-Iraq border while hiking, and the greeting was fraught with emotion.

American Hikers in Iran

There's no sound in the footage; the Iranian government taped the meeting and aired the silent footage on national television so all could see that the American captives were healthy and being treated well. But the silent video speaks volumes. You can feel the longing and terror these moms and their kids must be going through.

The only time the hikers had been allowed to speak with their families was for five minutes by phone in March. The rest of the time, they've been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison -- awaiting charges and a trial. Iranian officials say they plan to charge the three -- Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend, Josh Fattal, 27 -- with espionage, although their families insist they were only hiking.

The captives looked gaunt and tired; their mothers looked weary. But for the carefully orchestrated photo op, there was an abundance of fresh fruit and treats. The contrast between that scene and what these prisoners' daily lives must be like -- Sarah Shourd spends her days in solitary confinement, allowed one 30-minute visit a day with Bauer and Fattal -- was unsettling.

"The hour a day I have with Shane and Josh, I try to make the most of it," she told reporters. She and Bauer had been living together in Syria before their arrest. "We sing together and tell each other stories about our lives," she says. "We know everything about each other. We try to just give each other love and support in the little time we have together."

The moms spent six months waiting to get visas to enter Iran and are hoping to meet with the government this week to plead for their kids' release. They seem hopeful -- maybe more hopeful than their imprisoned kids.

"All we can do is ask the Iranian government, 'Please, please, listen to us, we love our children so much and they haven't harmed anyone, and we just really want this to happen,'" Nora Shourd, Sarah's mom, told reporters.

"Our plea would be to please, please release our children," echoed Laura Fattal, Josh's mom.

"Please, please let them go," Bauer's mom, Cindy Hickey, said. "It would be a good gesture for the world to see Iran doing a humanitarian act."

I can't imagine what it would be like to endure something like this. As a mom, I look at those mothers and feel their agony, their desire to just touch their children again. And as a young woman, I can't imagine the horror of days spent alone in prison wondering if I'd ever be free.

Seeing their moms -- even if it was only for a brief, two-hour encounter in a publicly controlled setting -- must have lifted the hikers' spirits. "This [meeting] is something obviously we've been praying for, and it makes a huge difference," said Shourd.

Josh Fattal simply said he was "very happy to see my mom again."

The Iranian government is in a standoff with the United States over their nuclear program, and it's not clear whether this gesture by the government was intended as a way to open the door to a release -- or if it's a way to remind the rest of the world that Iran is holding American citizens hostage.

But whatever the Iranian government's intentions, these Americans are clearly pawns in some larger game that likely won't end anytime soon. After their weeklong visas expire, the moms will likely return to the U.S. to continue circulating petitions and pleading their case to let their children come home.

next: Arizona's Immigration Law: Dangerous for Children
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