Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Free the hikers

One of the highpoints of the movement against the war with Iraq was the walkout of over 4,000 Birmingham school students who left their schools and marched into the city centre in an inspiring display of student power. It was a fantastic display of international solidarity and testimony to the character of our young people. One of those at the centre of the protests was Emily Churchill, a 16 year old student at Queensbridge School in Moseley.

Queensbridge School had previously walked out in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and as news of their action spread across the city it inspired others to do the same when the date was set for a city wide student strike. Emily described her experiences at the time:

‘My school has absolutely no history of protesting or of being particularly politically active, and I was very pessimistic about the kind of response I’d get to suggesting we protest, but 300 of us walked out (of a school of around 600) and held a peaceful protest in Birmingham city centre. After the walkout, people kept coming up to me at school and asking what we were going to do next. Two weeks later we had a walkout of about 4,000 students from across Birmingham. I think our protests genuinely worry the government, and they show that we’re not just going to carry on with our daily lives like the government wants while it shows such a horrific disregard for our world and its people. It’s integral that we don’t forget how right we are, and how strong we are—in numbers, in feeling, in vision.’

I had not heard from Emily for a few years and often wondered how she was getting on. So I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from her the other day. Emily has been travelling in the Middle East and spent some time living in Yarmouk Palestinian camp. While there she meet with fellow anti-war campaigners Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer. And it was in relation to her friends that Emily contacted me.

Along with Josh Fattal, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer have been detained in Iran since last July while on a hiking trip near the border between Iraq and Iran.

Emily explains:

‘Sarah and Shane are close friends of mine, I met them while living in Damascus 2008-9. Before they got arrested we were all living in Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where I got married last summer - Sarah Shane and Josh were at our wedding the day before they left for Kurdistan. Sarah and Shane are extremely committed anti-war activists - Sarah was voluntarily working with young Iraqi refugees (Iraqi Student Project) in Damascus, and Shane (who is a journalist) actually went to Iraq to see for himself the impact of the war and has written powerful pieces about this.

Both were heavily involved with 'Direct Action to Stop the War' when living in California. Both are committed campaigners for justice for Palestine, and Shane was an active member of the anti-wall demonstrations in Bi'lin in the West Bank, staying the night there and photographing night raids. Both are good friends of Tristan Anderson, the American activist who was shot in the head by Israeli troops at a protest in Ni'lin in the West Bank in 2009, and Shane was working on a story about Israel's use of the 'non-lethal' weapons that nearly killed Tristan. Tristan's parents have written a letter calling for the release of Sarah, Shane and Josh . The three hikers also have the support of Noam Chomsky, Demond Tutu and Rachel Corrie's parents, among many others.'

There is more information about the case here.

Despite being detained for nearly a year, the hikers have yet to be charged with any crime. They do seem to be idealistic people unfortunate enough to have been caught in the middle of diplomatic tensions between the US and Iran. They are asking for our support and I am happy to add my voice to the growing numbers of people from across the world who are calling upon the Iranian government to grant their immediate release.