Two American hikers held for years in an Iranian prison came home Sunday, declaring that they were detained because of their nationality, not because they might have crossed the border from Iraq.
Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived in New York on Sunday morning, ending their diplomatic and personal ordeal with a sharp rebuke of the country that sentenced each to eight years in jail for espionage and illegally walking into Iran. They say they may never know if they actually stepped across the border while hiking and getting lost.
“From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American,” Fattal said at a news conference at a Manhattan hotel. “Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S.”
The two 29-year-olds were freed last week under a $1 million bail deal paid by the country of Oman, where the hikers were greeted Wednesday by relatives and fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, who was released last year.
The men took turns reading statements, surrounded by relatives at a packed a conference room at Manhattan’s Parker Meridien hotel Sunday. They didn’t take questions from reporters. Fattal said he wanted to make clear that while he and 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.”
The hikers’ detention, Bauer said, was “never about crossing the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. We were held because of our nationality.”
“The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran,” said Bauer. “The irony is Sarah Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility. We were convicted of espionage, because we are American.”
The Washington Times reports that the two hikers specifically named Venezeulan dictator Hugo Chavez, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Code Pink’s Cindy Sheehan, liberal writer Noam Chomsky, actor Sean Penn, and other world leaders and public officials that they believed helped them gain their freedom.
Bauer went on to describe how he believes US actions towards detainees effected their prison treatment in Iran:
“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 in other parts of the world and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.”
“We do not believe 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 these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran to act in kind.”
In July 2009, the three say they were hiking together in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border when Iranian guards detained them. They always maintained their innocence, saying they might have accidentally wandered into Iran.
The two men were convicted of spying last month. Shourd, to whom Bauer proposed marriage while they were imprisoned, was charged but freed last year before any trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.