From the very start, the only reason we've been held hostage is because we're American -- These are the words of Josh Fattal, one of the three American hikers who were arrested by the Iranian forces while hiking in the Kurdish region along the Iraq-Iran border in July 2009.
Fattal and his friend Shane Bauer, were released from a Tehran prison last Wednesday and flown to Oman, while the third hiker, Sarah Shourd, 33, was released a year ago. Fattal and Bauer, both 29 years old, were convicted in Iran of spying and jailed mainly in isolation for more than two years.
The two hikers arrived in New York on Sunday, declaring they were innocent and had been held hostage simply because of their nationality. Both of them were released on Wednesday after Oman paid bail of $1 million.
After 781 days in prison, Shane and I are now free men, said Fattal at a news conference at a New York hotel.
During their imprisonment, they had a total of 15 minutes of telephone calls with their families and one short visit with their mothers. They had to go on hunger strikes repeatedly to receive letters from their loved ones. The solitary confinement in the Iranian prison was the worst experience of their lives, said Fattal.
According to Fattal, the investigators lied to them, claiming that the Swiss Embassy in Tehran didn't want to see them and that even their families had stopped writing letters to them. An 8- by-13-foot cell was their world, full of lies and false hope.
Their imprisonment, which lasted longer than that of the U.S. Embassy hostages in 1979-81, dragged on because the Iranian government has tied the case to its political disputes to the U.S., Fattal said.
After leaving Evin prison, Fattal and Bauer were immediately taken to the airport by a diplomatic convoy. They flew to Oman, where they were greeted by their families and by Shourd, the New York Times reported.
On Sept. 13, just before his U.S. visit to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised that the Americans would be freed as a humanitarian gesture in a couple of days. But soon after his announcement, the judiciary denied the immediate release.
We were held in captivity in almost complete isolation for more than two years. But for the past few precious days, we've been experiencing free life with our families, said Fattal. Bauer and Shourd are getting married soon.