OAKLAND -- Three American hikers who were jailed in Iran as spies joined hundreds at the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall Monday night, making their first West Coast appearance together since their release to say they stood in solidarity with the movement, just as people worldwide advocated for them while they were imprisoned.
Hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, both UC Berkeley grads, were jailed for 26 months in a Tehran prison and released last month on a $1 million bail deal. Sarah Shourd, 33, an Oakland resident, was freed last fall on $500,000 bail after spending a year in the same prison.
Shourd told the Occupy Oakland crowd that the trio connects with the suffering of millions "who don't have enough to eat, who don't have enough money or jobs and don't enjoy the liberties which they deserve."
"Once that is taken from you," she told the crowd of about 300 people gathered at the 100-tent encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza, "you never forget it again."
The appearance by Bauer, Fattal and Shourd was the second infusion of star power to the loose-knit Oakland group. On Saturday, activist actor Danny Glover joined a march to City Hall calling for economic justice.
The three freed hikers said the movement resonated with them. "This is amazing to see our country coming back to life and our city coming together. This is a wonderful homecoming," said Bauer, a freelance journalist from Minnesota. "This is the perfect place to celebrate our freedom. I feel the city is part of my heart and I can't tell you how important this feels."
Fattal, an environmental educator originally from suburban Philadelphia, added, "Never doubt that every piece helps, and I have a particular message to everyone here in Occupy Oakland: I support you."
The original message when Occupy Oakland got under way one week ago was a protest against widespread unemployment and corporate greed, but the encampment has grown to encompass many other causes: support for state prison inmates who are on hunger strikes, housing rights, fair wages and against social oppression.
Bauer, Fattal and Shourd were on a hiking trip in the Kurdish region of Iraq in July 2009 when they say they crossed an unmarked border into Iran and were arrested. The U.S. government has said they were used as political pawns by Iran, but Shourd told the crowd Monday that the three shared a special privilege as Americans: they were not forgotten and tens of thousands of people worked for their freedom.
"So anything Shane, Josh and I can do to lend our support or our voices to people who don't have a voice is a privilege," she said Monday.
During their months in prison, they spent much of their time in solitary confinement, which Fattal said was most cruel part of his detainment and Bauer called "hell."
Fattal said Monday he has not eaten for 24 hours in solidarity with about 150 inmates in state prisons who continue their fast to protest prison conditions.
"(The support of people) is really what made me get through everyday (in prison)," Fattal said.
When Bauer and Fattal were released Sept. 21 in a deal brokered by the Sultan Qaboos of Oman, the initial protest in the movement, Occupy Wall Street, was in its infancy in a New York City park. That protest saw its first local incarnation in San Francisco earlier this month and similar demonstrations are either ongoing or have been held in more than 70 major cities and at least 600 smaller communities. London, Paris, Rome and other European capitals have joined in and marches have also been held in Asia, South America and Australia.
Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while the two were imprisoned, but neither they nor Fattal would take questions Monday about where they are living now or their future plans.