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Americans convicted in Iran say they were hostages

Sep 25, 2011, 6:54 p.m.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal (R), U.S. hikers who were held in Iran on charges of espionage, speak during a news conference in Muscat, ahead of their departure to the United States, September 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two American men jailed in Iran for more than two years for spying arrived in New York on Sunday, saying they were innocent and had been held hostage simply because of their nationality.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, arrested with their friend Sarah Shourd while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border in July 2009, were freed on Wednesday after Oman paid bail of $1 million. Shourd was released on $500,000 bail a year ago.

Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison last month after a trial held behind closed doors. Washington denied the group were spies and U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday they should never have been detained.

Flanked by family members at a news conference in New York, Bauer and Fattal said the case against them was a "total sham" with "ridiculous lies that depicted us as being involved in an elaborate American-Israeli conspiracy to undermine Iran."

"The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran," Bauer said. "We were convicted of espionage because we are American. It's that simple. No evidence was ever presented against us."

With no diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution -- when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days until January 1981 -- several countries worked to mediate the release of the hikers.

Bauer and Fattal's freedom coincided with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Ahmadinejad, at odds with Washington and other western governments over Iran's nuclear program, described the release as a humanitarian gesture.

"Sarah, Josh and I have experienced a taste of the Iranian regime's brutality. We have been held in almost total isolation from the world and everything we love, stripped of our rights and freedom," said Bauer, who is engaged to Shourd.

Bauer said whenever they complained about their treatment, the guards would remind them of conditions at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects are held, and at secret CIA prisons.

"We do not believe that 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 that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind," Bauer said.

NO FORGIVENESS

The men spent the first three months of their detention in solitary confinement before they were put in an 8 foot by 13 foot (2.5 meter by 4 meter) cell together. They spent their time reading and testing each other on various topics and were allowed a short time in an outside room to exercise daily.

During 781 days in jail, they had 15 minutes of phone calls with their families and one short visit from their mothers, Fattal said. They staged repeated hunger strikes over demands they be given letters sent by their families, he said.

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