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American Hikers Free After 2 Years in Iranian Prison

September 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Americans Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal were reunited with their families Wednesday in Oman after spending more than two years in Iranian prison. The men were convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison, but were freed on bond.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Two Americans convicted as spies in Iran finally won their freedom today. They’d been held there since 2009. President Obama called the release wonderful news.

Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The plane carrying Americans Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal landed in Muscat, Oman, shortly before midnight, and they were reunited with their families.

Hours earlier, they had left in a convoy of cars from the Evin prison compound in Tehran. The Iranian news agency said Oman paid their bail, $1 million.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially suggested they’d be freed last week, just before his trip to New York for the U.N. General Assembly opening.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, Iranian President (through translator): When we said we will release them, we will release them, as a humanitarian gesture.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Iranian judges held up the release until today.

The two 29-year-old Americans had been jailed for more than two years for allegedly spying on Iran. They were seized along the Iran-Iraq border in July of 2009. Fellow American Sarah Shourd was also with them. She was freed a year ago on bail.

All three maintain they were just hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region when they accidentally strayed over the unmarked border into Iran.

WOMAN: An Iranian public prosecutor says three American detainees have been charged with espionage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the end, Iranian officials put them on trial, convicted them of spying, and sentenced each one to eight years in prison. The case set off a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at getting them released.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the mothers of the three made a trip to Iran in May of last year to meet with their children.

CINDY HICKEY, Mother of Shane Bauer: It’s totally separate of the politics. We’re going there as mothers to bring our children home. We’re very determined. I — it’s deeply embedded in me that that’s our goal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For a time, the outcome seemed in doubt. For more than five months, there was no news from Bauer and Fattal, once Shourd was released last September.

SARAH SHOURD, Former Iranian Prisoner: We have had no word from them since November. And I’m worried that they could be hunger-striking again. When I was in prison, several times, we were forced to resort to those measures because our conditions were so bad and we had absolutely no contact with our families.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In a statement late today, the Bauer and Fattal families said, “Today can only be described as the best day of our lives.”