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Freed hikers back on home soil

Two US men held for more than two years in an Iranian prison after they allegedly hiked over the border from Iraq have finally got home.

Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, were freed last week under a one million dollar (£645,000) bail deal and arrived in Oman on Wednesday, greeted by relatives and fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, who was released last year.

Their saga began in July 2009 with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country. The three were hiking together in Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border when Iranian guards detained them. They always maintained their innocence, saying they might have accidentally wandered into Iran.

The two men were convicted of spying last month. Ms Shourd, whom Mr Bauer proposed marriage to while they were imprisoned, was charged but freed before any trial.

Mr Fattal said in prepared remarks that he wanted to make clear that while he and Mr Bauer "applaud Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision" they "do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place".

"From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American," he said, adding that "Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the US."

The two countries severed diplomatic ties three decades ago during the hostage crisis that began with the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran. Since then, each country has tried to limit the other's influence in the Middle East, and the United States and other Western nations see Iran as the greatest nuclear threat in the region.

The irony of it all, Mr Bauer said, "is that Sarah, Josh and I oppose US policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility."

"Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten and there was nothing we could do to help them," said Mr Fattal. "How can we forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison so many other innocent people and prisoners of conscience?"

They said in statements read in New York that their phone calls with family members amounted to a total of 15 minutes in two years, and they had to go on repeated hunger strikes to receive letters. Eventually, they were told - falsely - that their families had stopped writing them letters.

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