2 hikers back in U.S., call case sham

Josh Fattal addresses a news conference in New York flanked by Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, Mr. Bauer’s fiancee. They asked Sunday for privacy.
Josh Fattal addresses a news conference in New York flanked by Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, Mr. Bauer’s fiancee. They asked Sunday for privacy.

NEW YORK — Two American men jailed in Iran more than two years for spying arrived in the United States on Sunday, saying they were innocent and had been held hostage simply because of their nationality.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, arrested with their friend Sarah Shourd while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border in July, 2009, were freed Wednesday after Oman handed over bail of $1 million.

The men’s families said they don’t know who paid the bail.

Ms. Shourd was released on $500,000 bail a year ago.

Mr. Fattal and Mr. Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison last month after a trial held behind closed doors.

Flanked by family members at a news conference in New York, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal said the case against them was a “total sham” with “ridiculous lies that depicted us as being involved in an elaborate American-Israeli conspiracy to undermine Iran.”

“The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran,” Mr. Bauer said. “We were convicted of espionage because we are American. It’s that simple. No evidence was ever presented against us.”

With no diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days until January, 1981 — several countries worked to mediate the release of the hikers.

They said their captivity was a nightmare of “false hope” and hunger strikes, with investigators telling them they had been forgotten by their families.

“We had to go on hunger strikes repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones,” Mr. Fattal said.

“Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten, and there was nothing we could do to help them. Solitary confinement was the worst experience of our lives. … “

The men’s freedom coincided with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Ahmadinejad, at odds with Washington and other western governments over Iran’s nuclear program, described the release as a humanitarian gesture.

Mr. Bauer, who is engaged to Ms. Shourd, said, “Sarah, Josh, and I have experienced a taste of the Iranian regime’s brutality. We have been held in almost total isolation from the world and everything we love, stripped of our rights and freedom.”

Mr. Bauer said that whenever they complained about their treatment, the guards would remind them of conditions at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects are held, and at secret CIA prisons.

“We do not believe that such human rights violations on the part of our government justify what has been done to us. Not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind,” Mr. Bauer said.

The men spent the first three months of their detention in solitary confinement before they were put in an 8-foot by 13-foot cell together.

They spent their time reading and testing each other on various topics and were allowed a short time in an outside room to exercise daily.

During 781 days in jail, they had 15 minutes of phone calls with their families and one short visit from their mothers, Mr. Fattal said.

Both men thanked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the governments of Turkey, Brazil, and Oman, and the Swiss ambassador to Iran.

They said they plan to spend time with their families in an undisclosed location, and they appealed for privacy.

Ms. Shourd told the news conference the trio, in their late 20s and early 30s, would be speaking and writing “at great length” about their ordeal in the future.

She said they regret not knowing more about the area where they chose to go hiking but their detention had nothing to do with their crossing the border.

“There’s a huge burden lifted off of all of our chests — so much joy,” she said.

“Shane and Josh and I are beginning our lives again, and there are so many new joys that await us; I’ve never felt as free as I feel today.”

But her face darkened when she was asked whether the men had been mistreated in captivity.

She said Mr. Bauer was beaten and Mr. Fattal was forced down a flight of stairs.

The men took turns reading statements, surrounded by relatives and Ms. Shourd. They didn’t take questions from reporters.

Mr. Fattal said he wanted to make clear that although he and Mr. Bauer “applaud Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision,” they “do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place.”

Mr. Bauer said they could not forgive the Iranian government for jailing other innocent people.

“It is the Iranian people who bear the brunt of this government’s cruelty and disregard for human rights,” he said.

Mr. Fattal said their release last week came as a total surprise.

On Wednesday, he said, they had just finished their brief daily open-air exercise and expected, as on other days, to be blindfolded and led back to their cell.

Instead, the prison guards took them downstairs, fingerprinted them, and gave them civilian clothes.

They weren’t told where they were going.

The guards then led them to another part of the prison, where they met a diplomatic envoy from Oman.

His first words to them: “Let’s go home.”

Hours later, the gates of Tehran’s Evin prison opened, and the Americans were driven to the airport, then flown to Oman.