After more than two years spent in an Iranian prison on allegations of spying and trespassing, American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released yesterday. After a week of conflicting statements from the Iranian judiciary and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the pair were finally granted bail and handed over to Swiss diplomats. They were taken to Oman, where they were joyfully reunited with their families. In a brief press conference in Iran, Bauer said, "Two years in prison is too long, and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran." President Obama welcomed the news and thanked the leaders of Oman and Iraq, who helped to negotiate the hikers’ release, as well as the Swiss government, whose embassy in Tehran looks after American interests there. Some analysts have speculated that Ahmadinejad wished to project a magnanimous image as he takes to the world stage today in his address to the United Nations General Assembly. In July 2009, Bauer and Fattal were arrested, along with Sarah Shourd, while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. Bauer is a freelance journalist who has contributed to Democracy Now! and other media outlets. Fattal is an environmental activist. Shourd was released last year. Joining us today is their American friend who was with them on their vacation in Iraq. Shon Meckfessel says he was not feeling well the morning of the hike, so he stayed behind at their hotel. On the morning of July 31, he set out to join them near a waterfall, when Shane telephoned him to say that they had been detained. Now, more than two years later, his friends have finally been released. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the release of the two American hikers from Iran. Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived in Oman, greeted by their friends and family. Let’s go directly to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer.
JOSH FATTAL: We’re so happy we are free and so relieved we are free. Our deepest gratitude goes towards His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman for obtaining our release. We’re sincerely grateful to the government of Oman for hosting us and our families.
SHANE BAUER: Two years in prison is too long, and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Shane Bauer speaking to reporters in Muscat, Oman.
President Obama welcomed the news, thanked the leaders of Oman and Iraq, who helped negotiate the hikers’ release, as well as the Swiss government, whose embassy in Tehran looks after American interests there. He said, quote, "All Americans join their families and friends in celebrating their long-awaited return home." Some analysts have speculated that the Iranian president Ahmadinejad wished to project a magnanimous image as he takes the world stage at the U.N. in New York.
In July 2009, Bauer and Fattal were arrested, along with Sarah Shourd, while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. Shane Bauer is a freelance journalist who reported for Democracy Now! and other publications and media outlets. Fattal is an environmental activist. Sarah Shourd was released last year.
But there was also a fourth American hiker who was with them on vacation in northern Iraq. He was Shon Meckfessel. He wasn’t feeling well the morning of their hike, so he stayed back at the hotel. On the morning of July 31st, he set out to join them near a waterfall, when Shane telephoned him to say that they had been detained. Now, more than two years later, his friends have finally been released, and Shon Meckfessel is in New York, joining us on Democracy Now!
Shon, it’s great to have you with us on this very happy day for your friends, for Shane Bauer, for Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, joining them in this very momentous time now in Oman. Welcome, Shon.
SHON MECKFESSEL: Thanks for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your thoughts today.
SHON MECKFESSEL: I mean, it’s a strange morning for celebration, you know? But it’s been a really hard two years for everybody. My heart goes out to Troy Davis’s family and loved ones and friends, because I know the kind of agony—I mean, for the differences of the situation, the kind of agony that it puts loved ones through and friends to have this kind of tension in your life. It just disrupts everything. It rends your life. And that’s—you know, that was true of our story, with this happy ending. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. I can’t express the relief that they’re finally out. It’s been—it’s been hell. It’s been—you know, it just—it affects every area of your life. It affects your relationships, your friendships, your family relationships, your work relationships. I mean, I’m a teacher. I’ve had to work this whole time. And I walk into the classroom, and all I can think about is them in that cell and what they’re going through. But, you know, I have to pull myself together. So, I can’t imagine what their family is going through. But yeah, it’s a wonderful day for us.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Shane’s statement?
SHON MECKFESSEL: Yeah, I mean, this, for me, was when it really broke. I was kind of in shock when I first heard the news. I was glad, of course, but it just wasn’t sinking in, after so long, after so many false starts. And then, I just—it’s like Shane is still totally Shane, that he gets out there, and the first thing he says is, you know, two years is too long. So he’s not saying thanks. Nobody is saying thanks for taking away two years of their life and their work in Evin Prison. But the next thing he goes on to say is he’s thinking about the bigger issues that this is involved with. He’s not having self-pity. He’s not treating it like a personal issue. He immediately called for the release of all political prisoners, all unjustly detained prisoners in America and in Iran. That’s the first thing he says after two years in prison, in Iranian prison, you know. So that’s when I was like, that’s the Shane I know. My heart broke, and just tears gushed. And I’m just—that’s when I realized that he’s still—he’s still totally there, he’s still totally strong.
I mean, in some sense, I wasn’t surprised, because I accompanied Shane, the two of us went to the Pine Ridge Reservation—it’s the poorest county in the entire U.S.—to report on current struggles there. And we stood on the very spot that, you know, the murder occurred that Leonard Peltier was framed up for. All of us were—have been involved in protests for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom, and I actually believe Shane and Sarah were involved in organizing against the execution of Tookie in San Quentin, which of course ended with the same racist, legal lynching result that Troy Davis’s case has ended with. So, but nonetheless, it was beautiful to hear that that’s the first words out of his mouth in two years. I’m so proud of him, and I’m so glad he’s free.
AMY GOODMAN: Shon, when will Shane and Josh—Sarah is with them in Oman, is that right? And their families?
SHON MECKFESSEL: And their families, yeah, they’re in Muscat right now. I’m not really sure they’ve decided when to come back. I think they probably need to catch a breath before landing here and dealing with everything. So we’ll have to see. But I think pretty soon. I think they’re, you know, in a rush to get back to familiar territory.
I wanted to say also, about Shane’s statement, you know, he didn’t just stop at the political prisoners, the famous people. He mentioned also just the unjustly detained, the cases that aren’t known. Shane doesn’t know about Troy Davis, because he’s been in Iranian prison two years. Otherwise, he probably would have been writing about him. Shane’s never heard of Bradley Manning. It’s probably exactly the kind of thing Shane would be trying to get an interview or somehow write about that situation. But he saw—you know, he immediately insisted on framing his situation as part of the issue that they’re involved in, you know, the same thing.
And he also didn’t—I wanted to point out, in the statement, he brought in Iran. He didn’t—you know, he feels accountability for things that happened within the U.S., because he’s a citizen of here, but also, you know, he’s not forgetting what people in Iran are going through. He’s not forgetting that he’s one of the luckier prison—I mean, all of them are some of the luckier prisoners who’ve gone through Evin Prison. Of course, I mean, they couldn’t see their lawyer for two years. They got three phone calls of about a minute in two years. So they didn’t have a nice detainment. It’s been horrible. It’s been awful. But, you know, he’s aware, they’re all aware, of what the other prisoners in that prison are going through, and also, you know, the reason they’re there. They’re in there because they’re fighting for the same things that we fight for out here, in much more difficult conditions. So, I was just totally moved that he—
AMY GOODMAN: Shon Meckfessel, I hate to leave it there, but we have to. That ends the show.