NEW YORK — Declaring that they were detained because of their nationality, two Americans held for more than two years in an Iranian prison came home Sunday, ending a diplomatic and personal ordeal with a sharp rebuke of the country that had imprisoned them after they hiked over the border from Iraq.
Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, 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.
Their saga began in July 2009 with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country. The three were hiking together in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border when Iranian guards detained them. They always maintained innocence, saying they might have accidentally wandered into Iran.
The two men were convicted of spying last month. Miss Shourd, to whom Mr. Bauer proposed marriage while they were imprisoned, was charged but freed before any trial.
The men took turns reading statements at a news conference Sunday in New York, surrounded by relatives and with Miss Shourd at their side. They didn’t take questions from reporters.
Mr. Fattal said he wanted to make clear that while he and Mr. 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.”
“From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American,” he said, adding that “Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S.”
Iran severed diplomatic ties with the U.S. three decades ago by seizing the U.S. embassy there in 1979 and holding its staff hostage for more than a year.
The detention, Mr. Bauer said, was “never about crossing the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. We were held because of our nationality.”
He said they don’t know whether they had crossed the border. “We will probably never know.” The irony of it all, he said, “is that Sarah, Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.”
The two also told of difficult prison conditions, where they were held in near isolation. They said their phone calls with family members amounted to a total of 15 minutes in two years, and they had to go on repeated hunger strikes to receive letters. Eventually, they were told — falsely — that their families had stopped writing them letters.
“We lived in a world of lies and false hope,” Mr. Fattal said.
Mr. Fattal called their release 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 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.”
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