Lessons from the Hiker Saga
What lessons can we take from the two-year detention of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal in terms of protecting journalists in the future?
The circumstances of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal's arrest and detention are highly unusual. Neither was on assignment when they were arrested, and they were not targeted because of their journalism. It's therefore very difficult to draw any lessons other than the obvious one: The Iranian justice system is cruel and perverse. We should not forget the dozens of Iranian journalists who remain in jail and who are subject to regular abuse.
How do you think Bauer's being a freelance journalist impacted the course of events surrounding the hikers' detention?
I don’t see any impact. My understanding is that they were on a recreational hiking trip in Kurdistan when they accidentally strayed across the border into Iran. We spoke on Bauer's behalf to dispel accusations that he was a spy. Shane was -- and is -- a well-established journalist who was living and working the region.
How would you describe American attitudes toward the case of Bauer and Fatal?
No question that it was a struggle to get Americans to understand their situation. Most Americans do not go hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. But if you live and work in the region, and Shane did, you know that Kurdistan is a scenic and safe area.
Do you agree with those who say that America's detention of journalists, most notably that of Al Jazeera reporter Sami al Haj, has set a precedent for governments or non-state actors to use members of the media as pawns in international maneuvering?
The unjust detention of Sami Al-Haj at Guantanamo represents a blot on the U.S.'s press freedom record. But I don't think it played any role in Shane and Josh's prolonged detention, which was based primarily on the political calculations of the Iranian government.
In light of Bauer and Fatal's release, what advice would you offer journalists looking to enter into conflict zones or other potentially risky areas?
Again, it's impossible to generalize from Shane and Josh's experience since as far as we know they were not on assignment and were not detained for their journalism. Obviously, journalists need to exercise caution and prudence when covering stories that involve danger. At the same time, we need to recognize that covering certain critical stories requires risk and we need to support journalists who put themselves in harm's way to bring us the news from the frontlines.