American hiker released from Iran prison says she wants to meet with Iranian president

By Tammy Webber, AP
Thursday, September 23, 2010

American hiker wants to meet with Iran president

CHICAGO — An American woman held in Iran for more than 13 months and accused of espionage says she hopes to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while he is in New York this week to attend the annual General Assembly of the United Nations.

Sarah Shourd, who was detained with two other Americans while hiking near the border of Iraq and Iran in July 2009, said on a Thursday episode of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that she wants the Iranian leader to know she has “no animosity towards him or towards any Iranian people.”

“There’s just no reason for animosity,” Shourd said. “In a situation like this, I don’t know who’s making the decisions. I don’t know why what happened to us happened … there’s no feeling of blame or anger. There’s just a strong desire for it to be over so we can go on with our lives.”

Shourd was released after officials in Oman, an ally of Iran and the United States, mediated a $500,000 bail for Shourd that satisfied Iranian authorities and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iran. The source of the bail payment has not been disclosed.

Her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Shourd said she never thought she would leave Iran without Bauer and Fattal, and still is “numb and a little bit in shock.”

“I just need to keep up with my pleas to the Iranian government and the religious leaders to show the same humanitarian gesture” and compassion to her friends, she said. “They committed no crime.”

Ahmadinejad has told The Associated Press he hopes Bauer and Fattal would be able to provide evidence “they had no ill intention in crossing the border” so they can be released. Iran has issued espionage-related indictments against the three of them, which could bring trials for the two men and proceedings in absentia for Shourd.

The three University of California at Berkeley graduates were detained after Iranian officials said they intentionally crossed the country’s border from Iraq. Shourd said 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.

Shourd said they went to the area because northern Iraq was considered safe and had “wonderful museums and … amazing food” and they wanted to experience the Kurdish culture. She said they saw soldiers about three hours into their hike, but there was nothing to indicate they were crossing into Iran.

After being detained, the three were driven around Iran for a few days and interrogated, but were sure they would be released, Shourd said.

“For the first three days, we just thought ‘this is impossible … we did nothing; we’re tourists; they’re going to let us go,’” Shourd said. “It didn’t hit me until we actually arrived in Tehran, and that’s when we were separated for the first time … that was one of the most devastating moments.”

She said she “screamed and screamed all night long” when she realized she was in prison.

Shourd said all three were held in solitary confinement for the first two months, and later were allowed to see each other for about an hour a day, though she still was held in solitary confinement the rest of the time.

She said she was in a cell that was “eight steps by five steps,” with a bed and an area in which to exercise, and could bathe daily.

At one point, she said, an Iranian investigator told her the investigation was over but that the situation had “become political and it really doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or not. This is bigger than you.”

Shourd grew up in Los Angeles; Bauer is a native of Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal grew up in Pennsylvania.

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.

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