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Updated: Families Say Release of Hikers is "Best Day of Our Lives"

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday September 21, 2011 - 03:25:00 PM

Two University of California at Berkeley graduates who have been detained in Iran on espionage charges for more than two years were finally released today, according to their families.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, and a third UC Berkeley graduate, Sarah Shourd, were arrested on July 31, 2009, after embarking on a hike in Iraq's Kurdistan region near the Iranian border.

Iran accused all three of them of espionage and last month Bauer and Fattal were sentenced to eight years in prison. 

But the hikers and their families said they aren't spies but instead were detained after they accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iran. 

Iran released Shourd, 32, who is engaged to Bauer, last September because she was in poor health. Shourd announced in May that she would not return to Iran for a trial because she is suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Shourd and family members of Bauer and Fattal greeted the two men in Muscat, Oman, when they arrived there after being released and flown out of Iran, according to a statement issued by the three families. 

The families said, "Today can only be described as the best day of our lives. We have waited for nearly 26 months for this moment and the joy and relief we feel at Shane and Josh's long-awaited freedom knows no bounds." 

They said, "We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us." 

The families thanked the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman and his envoy Dr. Salem Al Ismaily, for their roles in securing the release of Bauer and Fattal. 

They also thanked the hikers' lawyer, Masoud Shafii, and the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti. The Swiss Embassy in Iran acted as a liaison between the U.S. and Iran because the two countries don't have diplomatic relations. 

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement, "It is so wonderful that Shane and Josh are finally coming home to be reunited with their loved ones. But I deeply regret that their release has taken so long. Shane and Josh have been forced to pay too great a price by the Iranian government." 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, issued a statement today welcoming the release of the pair but said the U.S. government should now "address the issue of Iranian citizens detained in the U.S. with the same spirit of compassion that resulted in the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal."