News / USA

US Hikers: Iran Held Us Because of Nationality, Not Actions

Peter Fedynsky

Two American hikers released after 781 days in an Iranian prison are back in the United States.  Appearing at a news conference in New York on Sunday, the two men criticized Iran for holding political prisoners and the United States for maintaining the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  

Iranian prison officials used the Guantanamo facility as justification to deny Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer better prison conditions.

Captivity details

Josh Fattal described their captivity as nearly complete isolation in Tehran’s Evin Prison.  He said he and Shane Bauer were forced to live in a world of lies and false hopes.

“We had to go on hunger strike repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones.  Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten, and there was nothing we could do to help them," he said.

Shane Bauer told reporters that it is the Iranian people who bear the brunt of what he termed their government’s cruelty and disregard for human rights.  He called for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran.  While thanking American diplomats for helping to gain their release, he also directed criticism at the United States.

“In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay.  They would remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world, and the conditions that Iranians and others experienced in prisons in the U.S," he said.

Why they were arrested

Fattal, Bauer and a third American, Sarah Shourd, say they were hiking along Iraq's unmarked border and might have unknowingly strayed into Iran in July 2009.  The three were arrested and charged with espionage.  They say they were held hostage only because they were Americans.  Shourd was released in September 2010.  She appeared with her two colleagues in New York, along with family members of the hikers.  

Laura Fattal, Josh’s mother, said the men kept mentally active by quizzing each other, reading books and exercising. “One of the things that Josh told me was that they were very serious about their exercise.  And they used water bottles as weights in their cell to build muscles.  And you see they’re both very fit now," he said.

What's next?

The hikers expressed gratitude to the tens of thousands of people who participated in an international campaign to win their release.  They included world leaders, Nobel laureates, diplomats, the U.N. secretary-general, officials in the Iranian government and former boxing champion Mohammed Ali.

While Sarah Shourd was imprisoned in Iran, Shane Bauer asked whether she would marry him.  She agreed.  Now that she is reunited with her fiancé, Shourd says she looks forward to being married soon.  Josh Fattal will be their best man.

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