American "Hikers" nonviolently resist Iranian prison guards 2009-2011


The Hikers undertook nonviolent action to exert control over their circumstances and stop themselves from descending into madness.

Time period

July, 2009 to September, 2011



Location City/State/Province


Location Description

Evin Prison, on the outskirts of Tehran
Jump to case narrative


Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal


Not known

External allies

Supporters worldwide, especially the detainees' friends and family, conducted a separate campaign for the detainees' release.

Involvement of social elites

Not known


Iranian prison guards and officials

Nonviolent responses of opponent

not known

Campaigner violence

not known

Repressive Violence

The prisoners were beaten by prison guards when they resisted separation.


Human Rights



Group characterization

American political prisoners in Iran

Groups in 1st Segment

Prisoners (Josh

Segment Length

4 1/3 month

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


0 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaigners never identified specific demands upon their capture. However, they were successful many times during their captivity in carrying out small-scale campaigns such as hunger-striking to obtain letters sent by their families.

Database Narrative

Swarthmore College


18 pt
18 pt


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In 2009, there was great tension between the Governments of
the United States of America and Iran. 
This tension began after the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency
backed a coup d’etat that overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected leader
in 1953.  This tension was
heightened by the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when revolutionaries took
Americans in Iran as hostages for over a year before finally letting them
go.  In 2009, the tension between
the United States and Iran was increasing due to disputes over Iran’s nuclear
program.  Both sides had a history
of taking political prisoners. 


In the summer of 2009, American citizens Shane Bauer and
Sarah Shourd were living in Damascus, Syria.  Their friend and fellow American citizen Joshua Fattel came
to visit them, and together the three took a vacation to go hiking in Iraqi
Kurdistan. While hiking close to the Iranian border on 31 July, the three
spotted a group of soldiers that waved them over.  The three obeyed the soldiers, and crossed the border
between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran.


The soldiers threatened Shane, Sarah, and Josh with their
guns while they debated what to do with the Americans, before eventually
ordering them into an SUV.  Shane
Josh, and Sarah went limp and refused to move, and the soldiers dragged Shane
and Josh into the vehicle.  They
told Sarah, that she would not be forced, but she accompanied Shane and Josh
into the vehicle. 


Over the next several days, guards transported Josh, Shane,
and Sarah between several facilities in which the guards interrogated them,
before eventually taking them to a prison.  Once at the prison, the guards blindfolded the three, and
then tried to separate Josh from Shane and Sarah.  The three latched arms and refused to let go despite being
beaten, until eventually Josh let go from Shane and Sarah. 


Josh, Shane, and Sarah threatened to hunger strike until
they were allowed to see one another again.  They went on hunger strike for four days, after which the
guards allow them to see one another. 
The guards then took them each back to solitary confinement, but
beforehand, the Americans threatened to hunger strike again in two days if not
allowed to see one another.  After
going on hunger strike again, they were allowed to see one another after three


While in solitary confinement, Shane, Josh, and Sarah engaged
in acts of disobedience.  Sarah and
Shane, who were in adjacent cells, were able to speak to one other through the
air duct, which was prohibited by prison rules.  One day, a guard left the window to Shane’s cell open and
the keys in both his and Sarah’s doors, and he was able to sneak out of his
cell and into hers that night without alerting the prison guards.  Shane and Sarah made love as an act of
defiance, and Shane snuck back into his cell before the guards realized that he
was missing. 


After several weeks, the prisoners were transported to Evin
prison outside of Tehran, and put into solitary confinement again.  At the end of September, Swiss
consulate officials visited the prisoners, and gave them books and food.  During Autumn 2009, Josh, Shane, and
Sarah engaged in various methods of disruption and disobedience.  One time, when a guard took away Josh’s
books, he banged on his cell door until the guard returned, and asked him why
he took away the books.  Ashamed,
the guard brought Josh a new book. 


Another time, Josh banged on the door to protest against
guards who were beating another prisoner in the hall.  One of the guards charged into his cell enraged, and was
about to beat Josh, when he yelled “I don’t want to fight.”  The guard was so surprised that he
stopped, and left the cell abruptly. 
Shane taught himself Morse code so that he could communicate with other
prisoners, which was against the rules. 


At the beginning of December, guards moved Shane into Josh’s
cell, and allowed Josh, Shane, and Sarah 30 minute daily visits.  Sarah became severely depressed that
she was still isolated, and she harmed herself by banging on the brick walls
until she was bleeding.  Guards
rush in and asked her to stop harming herself, but she declared that she would
continue unless the guards gave her a cellmate.  The guards refused, but brought her a television and a DVD


Josh, Shane, and Sarah realized that they were succumbing to
the dehumanizing atmosphere of prison, and throughout that winter and during
spring 2010, the American prisoners engaged in acts of disobedience in attempts
to exert control over their circumstances and retain their sanities.  Sarah put shampoo over the peephole
into her cell.  Josh put his foot
in the way when a guard tried to close his cell door until the guard agreed to
open the window in the door.  They
talked to other prisoners in adjacent cells, stole pens to write messages to
one another, and Sarah sang loudly and disruptively. 


One day in summer 2010, a prison guard began to beat
Josh.  Shane placed himself between
the two and yelled at the guard, telling the guard to beat him instead.  The guard pushed Shane to the ground,
but then left. 


In September 2010, Sarah was moved from her cell, and was no
longer allowed to meet with Josh and Shane, as the Iranian government prepared
to release her. On 11 September 2010, Josh and Shane conducted a hunger strike
for 24 hours demanding to see Sarah. 
Guards allowed her to see them before she was released on 14


Several weeks after Iran released Sarah, prison guards
stopped bringing Josh and Shane letters from their parents. Josh and Shane conducted
a hunger strike for three days until the guards relented, and brought them
their letters.  The two threatened
to hunger strike every 30 days unless the guards brought them their letters. They
repeated this tactic all winter. 
At the beginning of April, Josh and Shane demanded that the guards
deliver the letters from Shane’s sister, which the guards had said they were
not allowed to deliver.  Shane and
Josh faked a hunger strike with food they had saved up for 17 days, until the
guards relented and delivered all of the letters from Shane’s sister. 


Shane and Josh committed acts of disobedience all summer,
hoarding barbituates and other medicines that the guards gave them, as well as
stealing pens from the guards.  At
the beginning of August, the guards stopped delivering Josh and Shane their
letters.  Josh and Shane went on
hunger strike immediately, and the guards responded within 24 hours, giving
them their letters. 


Iran released Shane and Josh to the Omani government on 21
September 2011, after a 2 year long external campaign encompassing many
countries, political and social elites, and tactics such as public speeches,
group lobbying, petitioning, and a rolling hunger strike conducted by the
families and close friends, as well as a great deal of political maneuvering by
the Iranian and Omani governments. 



not known


Bauer, Shane, Joshua Fattal, and Sarah Shourd. A Sliver of LIght. 1. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014. Print.

Sciutto, Jim, et al. "Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, Hikers Freed from Jail in Iran, Arrive in Oman." ABC News. ABC News, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Foti, Kaitlyn. "Families mark six months of hikers’ detainment in Iran." Glenside News Globe Times Chronicle [Glenside, PA]. 3 Feb. 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Moss-Coane, Marty. Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd on their imprisonment in Iran-Radio Times. WHYY Public Media, 20 Mar. 2014. WHYY Radio TImes. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Tom McGovern 31/03/2014