NEW YORK – 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 and arrived Wednesday in Oman, greeted by relatives and fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, who was released last year.
The men’s families said Sunday they don’t know who paid the bail.
The men’s saga began in July 2009 with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country. 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.
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 irony of it all, Bauer said, “is that Sarah, Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.”
Fattal said their release last week came as a total surprise.
On Wednesday, he said, they had just finished their brief daily open-air exercise and expected, as on other days, to be blindfolded and led back to their 8- by-13-foot cell.
Instead, the prison guards took them downstairs, fingerprinted them and gave them civilian clothes. They weren’t told where they were going.
The guards then led them to another part of the prison, where they met a diplomatic envoy from Oman.
His first words to them: “Let’s go home.”