Professors, Friends of Detainees Worried for Their Safety

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Correction Appended

The arrest of three accomplished UC Berkeley alumni in Iran on Friday has left friends and former professors concerned for their well-being.

The trio was arrested Friday for allegedly entering the country illegally from Iraq, propelling them into national headlines and playing into a history of tensions between the U.S. and Iranian governments.

Shane Bauer graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in 2007 with a degree in peace and conflict studies and a minor in Arabic. His girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, graduated in 2003 with a degree in English. Joshua Fattal, Bauer's former housemate, came to campus in Fall 2003 and graduated from the College of Natural Resources in 2004.

Bauer and Shourd traveled as freelance photojournalists, often reporting from regions embroiled in conflict.

"I had (Bauer) for at least two classes and he was an outstanding student in the program," said Jerry Sanders, chair of the peace and conflict studies major. "(He is an) excellent writer, very serious scholar, but he's able to translate that into journalistic language."

James Buck took classes with Bauer at UC Berkeley and said he was very concerned about social justice.

"He seemed very intent on his work and very concerned about the people he photographed," he said in an e-mail. "He also seemed to have no fear in places most would think dangerous."

Ken Light, an adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and a curator for the school's Center for Photography, said he taught Bauer in a spring 2007 photojournalism class and considered him a colleague.

"He did an in-depth photo essay on the Tenderloin (District)," he said. "It was very, very strong work and the students in the class selected him to be the lead story."

Bauer has since written articles for various news agencies including The Los Angeles Times, New American Media and Al-Jazeera.

Shourd, who describes herself in her blog as a "writer, social justice activist and ESL teacher," traveled with Bauer to the Middle East in the fall and has written articles from Syria and Yemen.

Shourd also worked as a teacher for the Iraqi Student Project, which strives to give Iraqi students an opportunity to study in American colleges.

"(Shourd is) dedicated to social justice and to working with the poor and disempowered," said Rebecca Fisher, a high school friend of Shourd's. "She's just got a heart of gold. She's a really amazing person."

Fisher said Shourd is a dedicated hiker and lover of the outdoors, possibly shedding light into the trio's reason for trekking near the mountainous Iran-Iraq border.

"We just all are hoping and praying that people realize that this is a mistake," Light said. "It seems like they're innocent victims of stepping over the border."

Zach A. Williams of the Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Tags: SHANE BAUER, SARAH SHOURD, IRAN, JOSHUA FATTAL

Correction: Tuesday, February 2, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ken Light was an adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education and curator of the campus's Photojournalism Center. In fact, he was an adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and a curator for the school's Center for Photography.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Tomer Ovadia at [email protected]



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