The Sept. 21 release of U.S. hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from an Iranian prison “affirms the importance of the role of religious dialogue and its end product in this case, public diplomacy, as we seek ways to define common ground between our two countries,” said Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop John Chane, who returned from a weeklong visit to Iran on Sept. 19.
Chane and a delegation of Christian and Muslim leaders had traveled to Iran at the invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; one objective was to seek the release of the hikers on humanitarian grounds, reports Episcopal News Service.
The delegation included Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, former leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Nihad Awad and Larry Shaw, national executive director and board chairman respectively of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Chane said in a Sept. 21 e-mail to Episcopal News Service that the hikers’ release “reaffirms the promises made during our conversations with the president of Iran and representatives of the Iranian foreign ministry ... I look forward to good conversations with representatives of our government with the hope that it finds a way to address the Iranians’ concern for their citizens who are currently in detention in the United States.”
Bauer and Fattal were arrested, along with Sarah Shourd, on July 31, 2009 and accused of spying. Shourd was released on bail in September 2010 for medical reasons and left Iran. In August, Bauer and Fattal were sentenced to eight years in prison.
“We welcome the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal and hope the successful resolution of their case will lead to improved relations between the United States and Iran,” said CAIR’s Awad in a statement. “We believe the efforts of the recent interfaith delegation to Iran offer a positive example of bridge-building initiatives that may be undertaken to help promote mutual understanding and cooperation between nations.”