Freed Iran Hikers Celebrate Homecoming in Midtown
MANHATTAN — They spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison, uncertain of their future, but were determined to make it out.
After 781 days in captivity, hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer set foot on American soil for the first time Sunday, touching down at JFK Airport in an emotional conclusion to their odyssey.
"In prison, we lived in a world of lies and false hope," Fattal told reporters at the Parker Meridien Hotel in Midtown.
"I cannot imagine how I would have made it through these last two years without [Shane]."
Fattal and Bauer — who were first arrested in July 2009 for allegedly crossing over the border into Iran — were released from Evin Prison on Sept. 22 after the Omani government paid their bail of $500,000 each, according to CNN.
Their sentences were commuted, but their bail was forfeited because they left the country, according to the report.
Fattal, an environmentalist, said that the men were held in "almost complete isolation for almost two years."
During that time, they got just 15 minutes of phone calls and one short visit from his mother.
"We had to go on hunger strikes repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones," added Fattal, who appeared with his family, as well as fellow hiker and prisoner Sarah Shourd, who was released from Iran just over a year ago.
"Solitary confinement was the worst experience of our lives."
Bauer, an Arabic student who had been living in Damascus with Shourd, his fiancee, insisted that the Iranian excuse for their arrest, crossing the border, was fiction.
"This was never about crossing the unmarked border between Iraq and Iran," said Bauer. "We were held because of our nationality.
"We were convicted of espionage because we are American. It's that simple. The two court sessions we attended were total shams."
In a twist, when the hikers complained to the guards about conditions at the jail, they were reminded of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and CIA prisons around the world, Bauer said.
Numerous world figures including Secretary General of the U.N., Ban Ki-Moon, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and boxer Muhammad Ali as well as tens of thousands of supporters championed their cause.
During their captivity, "Shane was beaten and Josh was forced down the stairs," said Shourd.
She said that "hearing the screams of the other prisoners" is "something you'll never forget."