American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer landed in New York on Sunday, Sept. 25, reuniting with friends and family after more than two years in an Iranian prison.
In Aug. 2009, a fateful hiking trip turned into charges of spying and trespassing once the pair, along with the previously-released Sarah Shourd, was detained near the Iran-Iraq border.
“From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American.” Fattal said in a statement at a press conference in New York, reported by Democracy Now! “Sarah was held for 410 days. The two of us were held for 781 days. That’s far too long, and it’s far longer than the American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. It was clear to us from the very beginning that we were hostages. ‘Hostage’ is the most accurate term, because, despite certain knowledge of our innocence, the Iranian government has tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S.”
“It was an incredible, incredible feeling of relief… his family went through so much,” fourth-year Rebecca Christoforo told the Catalyst. Christoforo met Fattal on a study abroad trip in Spring 2009, and they became close friends while travelling through China, India, Switzerland and South Africa. Christoforo said that there was a lot of uncertainty, since Iran has a pattern of giving harsh sentences to prisoners of conscience, then releasing them early in a show of humanitarianism.
“Now that it’s over I think it’s a renewed freedom for both of them … and Josh is an activist, so to see him have his voice back was really special” Christoforo said.
While the hikers are thankful for their release, they are neither forgetful, nor forgiving, of their treatment, which included extended solitary confinement, or what they witnessed in captivity. “If the Iranian government wants to change its image in the world and ease international pressure, it should release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience immediately,” Bauer said in New York. “They deserve their freedom just as much as we do.”