US hikers finally leave Iran after two-year ordeal

 

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The Independent US

The American hikers accused of espionage and imprisoned in Iran made an emotional homecoming yesterday, and spoke for the first time of living "in a world of lies and false hope".

Hours after bounding off a plane from the Middle East, Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd held an emotional press conference in which they told how, in two years of detention, they had a total of 15 minutes of telephone calls with their families, and one short visit, and how they had to go on repeated hunger strikes to be given letters from their loved ones. They also described how guards who complained about their treatment told them they were lucky compared to prisoners at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Bauer said the three of them had "experienced a taste of the Iranian regime's brutality". He said: "We have been held in almost total isolation from the world and everything we love, stripped of our rights and freedom."

The two men, both 29, were flown from Tehran on Thursday after being released from Evin Prison on bail of $500,000 (£320,000) each. Ms Shourd had been freed on bail last year.

Ms Shourd had been working as an English teacher and Mr Bauer as a freelance journalist in Damascus, Syria, when they were visited by their friend, Mr Fattal, an environmental activist.

The three had met while studying at Berkeley. They were detained while hiking to the famous Ahmed Awa waterfall in Iraqi Kurdistan, just across the border from Iran. They say that if they did stray over the unmarked border into Iran, it was accidental. Mr Bauer and Mr Fattal were sentenced last month to eight years in prison on charges of espionage.

"We will always regret grief and anxiety our fateful hiking trip led to, above all to our families, but we would like to be very clear," Mr Bauer said. "This was never about crossing the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. We were held because of our nationality."

Ms Shourd said she had "never felt as free as I feel today. And I think that's true for all of us."



The three faced the press in New York with big grins and expressions of boundless joy, but they had dark things to say about their treatment in Iran, and about the regime's treatment of other prisoners and the oppression of journalists and pro-democracy campaigners.

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

He went on: "In prison, we lived in a world of lies and false hope. The investigators lied that [the ambassador] from the Swiss Embassy in Tehran did not want to see us. They told us, again falsely, that they we would be given due process and access to our lawyer, the courageous and persistent Masoud Shafiee. Most infuriatingly, they told us that our families stopped writing us letters."

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