Sarah Shourd hiker 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
NEW YORK — An American woman who was held in Iran for more than 13 months and accused of espionage said Sunday she and two men detained with her never spied or committed any crime, calling their arrest "a huge misunderstanding."
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Discussing her experience at the most length since her release Tuesday, Sarah Shourd underscored her gratitude at being released but said she felt only "one-third free" because her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in Teheran's notorious Evin Prison.
"This is not the time to celebrate," Shourd, 32, said at a New York news conference. "The only thing that enabled me to cross the gulf from prison to freedom alone was the knowledge that Shane and Josh wanted with all their hearts for my suffering to end."
Composed but occasionally pausing when her voice wavered with emotion, Shourd thanked Iranians and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a carefully scripted return that spoke to the continuing delicacy of her situation. She didn't take questions or discuss the conditions in which she'd been held, walking away from the podium at a Manhattan hotel hand in hand with her mother, Nora, before Fattal's and Bauer's mothers answered reporters' queries.
Iran has issued espionage-related indictments against the three of them; the indictments could bring trials for the two men and proceedings in absentia for Shourd.
But Shourd stressed their innocence in a case that has added to the roster of tensions between the US and Iran.
The three University of California at Berkeley graduates were detained in July 2009 after Iranian officials said they intentionally crossed the country's border from Iraq. Echoing accounts their families have given in their absence, Shourd said Sunday that the three had been hiking in a popular tourist area — near a waterfall in Iraq's Kurdistan region — and had no idea the border was nearby.
"If we were indeed near the Iraq-Iran border, that border was entirely unmarked and indistinguishable," she said.
"Shane and Josh do not deserve to be in prison one day longer than I was," she said. "We committed no crime and we are not spies. We in no way intended any harm to the Iranian government or its people and believe a huge misunderstanding led to our detention and prolonged imprisonment."
Shourd's mother has said she had health problems including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells. Shourd said Sunday that doctors in Oman, where she went immediately after her release, had determined she was physically well.
Officials in Oman — an ally of both Iran and the United States —
mediated a $500,000 bail for Shourd that satisfied Iranian authorities
and apparently did not violate US economic sanctions against Iran. The
source of the bail payment has not been disclosed.
After 410 days in Iranian custody, "I walked out of prison with my
spirit bruised but unbroken," she said.
Shourd left Oman on Saturday for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and took a
commercial flight from there to Dulles International Airport, near
Washington, the Americans' families said.
Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where
Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English
teacher. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them last
July, and the three went hiking.
She added that she hoped their experience would provide "an opportunity
for Americans and Iranians to realize that an improved relationship
would be in the best interest of all people."