Three Americans jailed in Iran for 10 months hugged and kissed their mothers in an emotional reunion yesterday after the women arrived on a mission to secure the release of their children.
Wearing the long black robes and headscarves required under Iran's Islamic dress code, Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal threw their arms in the air and rushed to embrace their offspring as they entered the room at the Esteghlal Hotel in north Tehran.
In footage aired on Iran's state-run Press TV, the families could be seen rocking back and forth together with tears in their eyes. "We hope we're going home soon, maybe with our mothers," Josh Fattal said, in the trio's first public comments since their arrest.
Iran detained the 27-year-old together with friend Sarah Shourd, 31, and her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27 along the Iraqi border in late July. Tehran has accused the three Americans of entering from Iraqi territory and spying but their relatives say the three were simply hiking in Iraq's scenic and largely peaceful northern Kurdish region.
"We don't understand why we've been kept here," said Sarah Shourd yesterday. "We thought we would be here a matter of days and it's been nine-and-a-half months. In my wildest dream I never thought I would still be in prison."
Iran granted the three mothers visas to visit in what it said was an Islamic humanitarian gesture and the Americans appealed to them to release the three on the same grounds. Relatives have had little news on the three since their arrest, and the three women were eager to talk to their children and gauge the state of their health after 10 months in captivity in Iran's notorious Evin prison.
Sarah Shourd's mother, Nora, had said she was especially worried about the effect that near-solitary confinement may be having on her daughter. Swiss diplomats, who represent US interests in Iran, have reported that she was suffering a serious gynaecological condition, while Shane Bauer had a stomach ailment.
Sarah Shourd said yesterday that their treatment by the Iranian authorities had been "decent" and loneliness has been the hardest part of her detention. "Shane and Josh are in a room together but I'm alone and that's the most difficult thing for me," she said, adding that she was allowed to visit the two men twice a day. "This [the meeting] is something obviously we've been praying for and it makes a huge difference."
The group later ate lunch together at a feast of rice, kebabs and other traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Their lawyer Masoud Shafii said the six would stay together at least until evening, but it was not clear whether the three detainees would have to return to the prison for the night.
The mothers are hoping to meet with officials involved in the case, and ideally with top Iranian leaders, including the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, the lawyer said.
Mr Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, said yesterday that the parents were "very grateful to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the authorities for granting us a visa" to visit. "We know that this is a great humanitarian act that they have given to us. Our reception was wonderful," she added.
Iran's Intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, defended the treatment of the Americans during their detention. "We have treated the US nationals according to our religious principles and on humanitarian grounds, even though these individuals committed an act of espionage by illegally crossing the border into Iran," he said to Press TV.