by Eric Klein
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously last night to send a letter directly to the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hoping that the city's long opposition to the use of force in that country might quicken the release of the three UC Berkeley graduates being detained there.
Concern that the letter might muddy US State Department efforts to free the detainees led to a brief discussion at the meeting. Councilwoman Linda Maio told of the experience of a friend whose daughter was detained in Burma while doing human rights work, which taught her that local political efforts to free an overseas prisoner should be coordinated with the state department.
But Councilman Kriss Worthington, the author of the item, said that in this case the State Department as well as the families of the hikers have approved of Berkeley sending the letter on its own. Worthington said that Berkeley's anti-war reputation would mean that the letter would stand apart from one sent from higher up in the US government.
The letter reads: “As the first city in the United States to oppose military intervention and/or use of force in Iran in 2007, as well as oppose the bombings of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq... we have a long record of respect for Islamic nations and their rights.”
The city is sending the appeal directly to Ahmadinejad for “maximum leniency” for Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal. “We also urge the Iranian government and/or judiciary to allow the trio to communicate with their families,” who are “extremely devastated over the detainment of their loved ones.” The families have not been allowed to contact or visit the “hikers,” who've been held incommunicado for six months.
Councilman Gordon Wozniak rarely votes in favor of the city's foreign policy stances, but in this case he supported sending the letter. Wozniak said that he asked an Iranian friend to read the Farsi translation and his friend was quite impressed by it. His friend told him that there are a number of members of the Iranian government who have received their education in Berkeley and an individual letter coming from the city might actually have more impact then a letter coming from the US government.