Freed Hikers: Iran held us because we're American
NEW YORK (KABC) -- The freed America hikers who returned to the U.S. Sunday said they were held because of their nationality, not their actions.
Their sharp rebuke of the country that imprisoned them for over two years came at a news conference in New York, where Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer spoke to the media for the first time about their imprisonment. The two arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport at approximately 8 a.m. PT.
The men took turns reading statements surrounded by relatives. They didn't take questions from reporters.
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."
"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."
Their detention, 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 two also told of difficult prison conditions, where they were held in near isolation. They said they heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten.
Fattal and Bauer were released earlier this week from custody and arrived in Oman under a $1 million bail deal.
Iran's Foreign Ministry called it a gesture of Islamic mercy.
The entire ordeal started in July 2009 when they were detained along the Iran-Iraq border along with fellow hiker Sarah Shourd. The three have maintained their innocence, saying they were only hiking in Iraq's scenic Kurdish region and accidentally wandered into Iran.
Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, was released in 2010 on $500,000 bail. In August, Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison each for illegal entry into Iran and espionage.
Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the two men could be released within days. But wrangling from within the country's leadership delayed efforts. Iranian defense attorney Masoud Shafiei secured the necessary judicial approval Wednesday for the bail - $500,000 for each man.
Hours later, the gates of Tehran's Evin prison opened and the Americans headed to Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
Shourd was with the families to greet the two on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the main international airport in Oman's capital, Muscat.
Until their release, the last previous direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010, when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran, which Iranian officials used for high-profile propaganda.
Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from Elkins Park, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.
Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while they were in jail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
iran, legal, iraq, world news
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