Accessibility links

Freed British Sailors Tell of Ordeal in Iran Detention

A day after returning home from nearly two weeks' captivity in Iran, some of the 15 British sailors and marines spoke openly about their ordeal - of being kept in isolation, blindfolded, hearing guns cocked behind their heads, being threatened with prison sentences and used for propaganda. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

After a day of family reunions, some of the navy crew captured by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces faced the microphones and TV cameras back in Britain to tell their story.

"Good afternoon, my name is Captain Chris Air, Royal Marines. Myself and the gentleman on my left, Lt. Felix Carman are now going to read our statement," he said.

And the story Captain Air, Lt. Carman and the others told varied greatly from the photos shown on Iranian television over the past two weeks - of the sailors smiling, chatting, playing chess and seemingly apologetic for allegedly having strayed into Iranian territorial waters.

"We were blindfolded, stripped of all our kit [equipment] and led to a room, where I declared myself as the officer in charge, and was introduced to their local commander," he recalled.

Lt. Carmen described events immediately after the crew and their two small boats were surrounded by Iranian forces and taken to a local base. The treatment, he said got worse once they were transferred to Tehran.

"We were blindfolded, our hands were bound. We were forced up against a wall. Throughout our ordeal, we faced constant psychological pressure," he said. "Later, we were stripped and dressed in pajamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells, all of us were kept in isolation. We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options - if we admitted we'd strayed [into Iranian waters], we'd be back in a plane to the U.K. pretty soon. If we didn't we faced up to seven years in prison."

Carman said a general consensus emerged that they would talk, and, to some extent, go along with their captors, without revealing any operational details.

He said, toward the end of their detention, they were allowed some time together - in front of the Iranian media.

The one woman in the group, Faye Turney, was separated from the rest of the crew from the start, and told the others had all been released. She was the first captive shown on Iranian television. She did not take part in Friday's news conference.

The crew's capture March 23 sparked a diplomatic standoff and high-level discussions between London and Tehran. Iran maintains the British sailors were in Iranian waters when detained, British authorities insist the crew was in Iraqi waters.

In the end, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was giving a "gift" to the British people, when he announced the sailors' release on Wednesday, indicating Iran succeeded in sending its warning. And, in London Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain had prevailed though a mix of dialogue and diplomatic pressure, a strategy he said the international community should continue to use with Iran when discussing other issues, such as the situation in Iraq or Iran's nuclear ambitions.