Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, the two Americans freed from an Iranian prison, said Sunday their two-year captivity was a nightmare and that solitary confinement was "the worst experience of our lives."
NEW YORK — Two Americans freed from an Iranian prison said Sunday their two-year captivity was a nightmare of “false hope” and hunger strikes, with investigators telling them they had been forgotten by their families.
“We had to go on hunger strikes repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones,” said Josh Fattal. “Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten and there was nothing we could do to help them. Solitary confinement was the worst experience of our lives.”
Fattal and Shane Bauer, whom Iran had suspected of spying, were set free on Wednesday and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday, a day after leaving Oman.
“We lived in a world of lies and false hope,” Fattal said at a news conference. “The investigators lied that Ambassador Leu from the Swiss Embassy in Tehran did not want to see us. They told us, again falsely, that we would be given due process and access to our lawyer, the courageous and persistent Mr. Masoud Shafii. Most infuriatingly, they even told us that our families had stopped writing us letters.”
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The two, both 29, were released after a turbulent week of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Joined in Oman by their parents, siblings and Bauer’s fiancee, 33-year-old Sarah Shourd, the former prisoners spent their first three days of freedom in Oman’s capital, Muscat.
In New York on Sunday, Fattal read from a prepared statement.
“Releasing us is a good gesture, and no positive step should go unnoticed,” he said. “We applaud the Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision regarding our case. But we want to be clear that they do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place.”
Fattal and Bauer showered praise Saturday on Oman, the Persian Gulf sultanate that played a pivotal role in engineering their freedom.
Speaking at Muscat International Airport before beginning the trip that brought them to New York, Fattal and Bauer said they were thankful for the intervention of Oman’s monarch and his emissary, a prominent Omani banker.
Fattal spoke of the simple joy of finally watching the sun rise for the first time in 26 months. He thanked America’s ambassador to Oman for his hospitality in providing a way station on the hikers’ journey home.
“Just hours after we left prison, we were able to swim in the calm waters of the gulf,” Fattal said. “We stayed up all night with our loved ones and watched the most beautiful sunrise we have ever seen. These experiences will be with us for the rest of our lives. We would like to thank Oman for welcoming us, and for hosting our families. We also thank the American ambassador, Richard Schmierer, and his wife, Sandy, for their hospitality. We hope someday to return to this wonderful country, but for now we are eager to go home at last.”
Fattal, Bauer and Shourd say they were hiking near a waterfall in a tourist region of northern Iraqi Kurdistan when they were arrested by Iranian border guards on July 31, 2009. If they crossed Iran’s unmarked border, it was by accident, they say.
Shourd, who became engaged to Bauer while they were in prison, was let go a year ago on what Iran called humanitarian release because she was reportedly seriously ill.
The hikers’ parents and friends mounted an international campaign for their freedom. Their supporters came to include Muhammad Ali, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mia Farrow and many others.
President Obama spoke out on their behalf, saying they never had worked for the U.S. government. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the hikers were curious travelers who got themselves into a terrible situation and that their prolonged detention was unjust.
After numerous delays, Fattal and Bauer were eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. They were released after a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal mediated, and reportedly paid for, by Oman.