They've waited 662 days for their sons' freedom. And now Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal, the mothers of imprisoned American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, told ABC News they've run out of patience.
Interviewed at the National Press Club in Washington, Hickey told us, "There are days I don't sleep. I don't sleep at night. I watch my daughters struggling -- my daughters are struggling very hard with this. It's still surreal to me that we are in this situation. How long can this go on? At some point things that have been lost wouldn't be able to be recovered, and that's my biggest fear."
The mothers, along with Fattal's brother Alex, have launched a series of events to raise awareness of the hikers' case and -- they hope -- speed up their release.
After learning that their sons went on a 17-day hunger strike to protest their not being able to receive letters from loved ones, the families of the hikers have started a hunger strike of their own. Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal rolled it out last week. Deepak Chopra picked it up over the weekend. And now Alex is taking his turn. Laura Fattal will start again on June 4, her son Josh's birthday.
Laura Fattal: "I could imagine this could have been done in 21 hours, not 21 months to free them. Of course, we are strong. We are strong to get our sons to their freedom, and because these are 28-year-old young men who have their entire life in front of them."
Cindy Hickey: "We want to stand in solidarity with Shane and Josh. We want them home. This will continue. It's a rolling hunger strike. It will continue until they are hone. There is always somebody on a hunger strike. The answer to ending this is to have Shane and Josh home."
The hikers families and loved have also enlisted the help of boxing legend Muhammad Ali and U.S. Muslim leaders who have called for their release. In a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei released today, Ali and 20 other American Muslim leaders wrote of Bauer and Fattal's innocence, and appealed to the supreme leader to release them out of compassion and kindness, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad.
"After listening to the families, we believe that these Americans did not seek to cause any problems between the United States and the Muslim world or the United States and Iran, but were in the region for the opposite purpose, to promote dialogue and understanding," the letter read.
"Please show them Islamic compassion, mercy and forgiveness, and allow them to continue on this mission. ... We feel confident that your example of Islamic mercy and compassion could help create a more positive image of Islam, and help American Muslim scholars and organizations foster a reputable community within American society."
Speaking on behalf of her husband, Lonnie Ali explained that "regardless of how things are going between the Republic of Iran and the United States, the people of Iran are good people. They are good people in their hearts, and I can assure you they love this man. It's based on that compassion, for love of Allah, love of Muhammad, that we ask for their release." The three-time World Heavyweight Champion, battling the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, did not speak at today's event.
On Sunday the two detainees spoke with their families for the first time since Nov. 27, 2010. The phone calls from Fattal and Bauer were both rejuvenating and worrying for their mothers. Laura Fattal was out of the house when her husband took the call.
Laura Fattal: "My husband and I, we hugged, we held hands, and then my husband told me. We just hugged each other and kissed, and then we were all in tears."
Cindy Hickey: "He sounded OK. I was glad to hear [from him] of course, but at this point a phone call really isn't enough. I want Shane home. This is only the third phone call going on 22 months now. He asked me again, 'Mom, can you tell me anything. And I couldn't. I don't know anything more than he does really about when things are going to move forward.
On July 21, 2009, while hiking on vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sarah Shourd, 32, was detained with Bauer, 28, and Fattal, 28, by Iranian forces along the unmarked border with Iran. Shourd, Bauer's fiance, was released on humanitarian grounds last September. The families of the two men have long denied the charges against them and reiterated today that their detention is purely political.