New York Times
September 25, 2011
– by Sarah Maslin NIR and Elizabeth A. Harris
The two American hikers who were held in Iran on espionage charges say they kept their days strictly regimented, running laps, weight-lifting water bottles, discussing literature and quizzing each other, in an effort to stay physically and mentally fit while in captivity. They spent 781 days that way in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.
On Sunday, the hikers, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, arrived in New York City after a long diplomatic battle to secure their release that further challenged the fraught relationship between the United States and Iran. A third hiker arrested with them, Sarah E. Shourd, was freed last September.
“Sarah, Josh and I can now finally leave prison behind us,” Mr. Bauer, 29, said at a news conference in Manhattan. “We want more than anything to begin our lives anew, with a new appreciation for the sweet taste of freedom.”
Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal, also 29, who were released and sent to Oman on Wednesday, had been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of espionage and trespassing.
The hikers said from the beginning that they had wandered over the Iranian border by accident while touring in the Kurdish region of Iraq. No evidence of espionage has been presented publicly, and on Sunday they asserted their innocence again and called themselves “hostages.”
At a Midtown hotel, the two men, looking ashen and thin, stood flanked by their families and Ms. Shourd. They thanked their supporters and the elected officials and celebrities, like Muhammad Ali and Sean Penn, who pressed for their release. They did not thank the government of Iran, and called for Tehran to release other political prisoners.
Referring to the Iranian authorities, Mr. Fattal said, “They do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place.”
The men described their lives in prison as harrowing. They were blindfolded regularly, they said, and refused to eat when the letters that their families wrote to them daily were withheld. The men made shoelaces out of their blindfolds so they could keep up their fitness regimen.
Sometimes, the hikers heard the screams of other prisoners.
“It didn’t happen often,” Ms. Shourd said, “but it doesn’t have to happen often to leave an indelible mark on your soul.”
Power struggles among Iran’s leaders complicated and delayed the release of the two men. The president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said before his trip to the United Nations last week that they would be freed imminently, only to be contradicted by an Iranian court shortly afterward. The court, which answers to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Mr. Ahmadinejad lacked the authority to grant the men freedom; it did so itself a few days later.
Ms. Shourd, 33, who became engaged to Mr. Bauer while they were all in jail, was released after payment of $500,000 in bail. The Iranian authorities said the same amount was paid for each of the two men last week.
Though there were widespread reports that the Sultanate of Oman, which has diplomatic relations with both Iran and the United States, had made the payments, Ms. Shourd said on Sunday that no one had publicly taken credit for bailing them out. Oman was the first stop for all three hikers on their journeys home, and they issued a statement thanking Sultan Qaboos bin Said after the two men arrived there on Wednesday.
Ms. Shourd declined to say when the wedding would take place, except that she hoped it would be very soon. Mr. Fattal will be the best man.