Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, freed from Iran, call for release of all political prisoners

Shane Bauer, left, Josh Fattal: Back home, and speaking out.
Shane Bauer, left, Josh Fattal: Back home, and speaking out.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have returned to the United States, and begun describing their two-plus-year ordeal in Iran as accused, convicted, and imprisoned "spies."

The two Americans had to go on hunger strikes just to receive letters from family, and heard the echoing screams in Evin Prison as other political prisoners were beaten. Bauer and Fattal spent time in solitary confinement, and were told by prison guards that their families had given up on them.

Those details emerged during a press conference yesterday in New York City, during which Bauer, a native of Onamia and a freelance journalist, and Fattal first officially addressed the media about their imprisonment.

Bauer has also been reunited with his fiancee, Sarah Shourd, whom Iranians released on $500,000 bail last year. Bauer had proposed to Shourd while the two were held in prison.

She accepted, after he presented her an engagement ring he'd spun together out of threads from his shirt, according to the Washington Post.

Shane Bauer: Opposes political imprisonment by Iran -- and the United States.
Shane Bauer: Opposes political imprisonment by Iran -- and the United States.

Shourd, Bauer, and Fattal all met when the three were undergraduate students at the University of California. Since then, Bauer has taken up work as a rootless photojournalist and writer, filing stories for the Nation and the Christian Science Monitor, and filling his blog with dispatches from across the Middle East and Africa.

It's still unclear who paid for Shourd, Fattal, and Bauer to be released: Their families have said they don't know who put up the bail money, and the U.S. State Department has said it would refuse to pay such a ransom to Iran. Because the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations, American authorities had to negotiate through back channels, using Swiss and Omani diplomats to secure Bauer and Fattal's freedom.

Upon the news Bauer and Fattal were out, Barack Obama issued this statement:

I welcome the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from detention in Iran and am very pleased that they are being reunited with their loved ones. The tireless advocacy of their families over these two years has won my admiration, and is now coming to an end with Josh and Shane back in their arms. All Americans join their families and friends in celebrating their long-awaited return home.

We are deeply grateful to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Swiss government, and to all our partners and allies around the world who have worked steadfastly over the past two years to secure the release of Shane and Josh.

But, while Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both welcomed them back, Bauer did not pass up the chance to make a political point that cuts both ways. The moment the two had stepped off the plane that took them from Iran to Oman, Bauer made clear that he didn't forgive Iran, but that it wasn't the only country holding people for political reasons.

"Two years in prison is too long," he said, "and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners, and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran."

Sarah Shourd agreed to marry Bauer while the two in Iranian prison.
Sarah Shourd agreed to marry Bauer while the two in Iranian prison.

At the press conference, Bauer said Iranian prison guards would explain their bad treatment of the Americans by making reference to Muslims held at America's off-shore prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in C.I.A. prisons across the world.

To no one's surprise, Bauer said the Americans' arrest and imprisonment was about one thing only: their nationality as Americans. This was a cruel reality, given that the three Americans found hiking near the Iran-Iraq border in the summer of 2009 seem more likely to  publicly criticize American foreign policy than "spy" on its behalf, as the Iranians alleged.

"Sarah, Josh, and I oppose U.S. policies toward Iran which perpetuate this hostility," Bauer said.

Even if he's not thrilled with everything America does to Iran, Bauer acknowledged that he's happy to leave the latter for the former, with all of its comforts.

"We want more than anything," he said, "to begin our lives anew, and with a new appreciation for the sweet taste of freedom."


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