Freed Hiker Sarah Shourd Pleads Case to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Shourd pleaded her case for Iran to release American friends still in Iran.

ByLEE FERRAN and DESIREE ADIB via via logo
September 19, 2010, 11:59 AM

Sept. 24, 2010— -- Sarah Shourd, the American hiker recently released from Iran after nearly 14 months of detention, says she met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today to plead for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, fellow hikers still in Iranian custody.

"For me to talk to the president [is] something I prayed for while in prison," Shourd told ABC News outside a New York hotel. "I just want to thank Mr. Ahmadinejad for this gesture of allowing my mother and I to meet with him and for the mothers of Shane and Josh. It was a very gracious gesture and a good meeting."

Shourd did not reveal where she and the others met with Ahmadinejad or offer other details, though she said Ahmadinejad seemed much friendlier than his public persona during "a very human encounter, very personal."

"I'm just going to keep pushing every minute for their release on humanitarian grounds," Shourd said. "I feel my case sets a precedent for their release."

The meeting came a day after Ahmadinejad made a controversial speech to the United Nations questioning whether the U.S. secretly plotted the 9/11 terror attacks, prompting members of the American delegation and others to storm out of the hall in protest.

Shourd's release from Iranian detention came after she discovered irregularities in her breast, but she told ABC News today that doctors now have assured her she's healthy.

"Now that I am able to see doctors, my issues have been addressed," she said. "There in prison, I wasn't able to see doctors and ask questions. But the doctors have reassured me that there is nothing of serious concern with my health."

Shourd described meeting Ahmadinejad hours after saying on ABC News' "Good Morning America" Friday that she would not rule out going back to Iran if it meant proving her innocence and that of her fiance, Bauer, and friend, Fattal.

"I'm not ruling anything out, but I'm not ruling anything in," Shourd said. "I hope that that doesn't have to happen. If that's what it takes to prove that we committed no crime and meant no harm and are absolutely innocent, than I'd be willing to do it."

Upon her release on $500,000 bail two weeks ago, an Iranian prosecutor said that Shourd would have to return to face trial for entering the country illegally. Bauer and Fattal remain in Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, where they have been since the trio was arrested in July 2009.

Shourd has been using her newfound freedom to repeatedly plead to Iranian officials and religious leaders for Bauer and Fattal's release, and described on "GMA" what she would say if she met Ahmadinejad.

"I really want to beseech him and encourage him to end this for Shane and Josh," she said. "There is absolutely no evidence that we committed a crime."

Shourd, who spent an overwhelming majority of her captivity in solitary confinement, said that any idea that her stoic appearance today reflects a relatively easy time in prison is misguided.

"A lot people say that I look OK but that's because no one's ever going to see what I looked in my cell, screaming and crying and pounding on the door and no one came to help me," she said.

The only bright moments in prison, she said, came during the one hour a day she was allowed to see Bauer and Fattal. The brightest moment of all, however, was when Bauer, her longtime boyfriend, used a string from his shirt to make her a ring for a surprise proposal.

"That was completely unexpected. I mean, I was hoping for it for a long time," Shourd said. "I was planning on asking Shane upon our release, but he beat me to it. It was not the typical idea of romantic, but extremely romantic in the circumstances."

The group was picked up by Iranian officials on July 31, 2009 after they allegedly crossed into Iran while hiking in what Shourd called a popular tourist destination in northern Iraq. Officials accused them of espionage.

"The most important thing is that we were hiking behind a tourist site," Shourd said. "We had no intention of going to Iran. ... A mistake was made."

Shourd appeared unconvinced the group was ever in Iran at all in an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Thursday. When Winfrey asked a question about "when" the trio crossed into Iran, Shourd interjected, "If!"

Shourd told Winfrey that while they were hiking, soldiers suddenly appeared and spoke to the group in Farsi.

"We had no idea we were even near Iran," she said. "They told us that we had to come with them."

After a five-month investigation, The Nation reported in June of this year based on eyewitness accounts that the hikers never entered Iran at all and were actually captured in Iraq and taken over the border.

Shourd to Oprah: Iranian Investigator Said Innocence 'Really Doesn't Matter'

In one heartbreaking moment, Shourd claimed the Iranian in charge of her investigation once told her flatly that her guilt or innocence "really doesn't matter."

"There was a moment that it hit me that this was going to be possibly a bigger deal than my worst fears," Shourd told Winfrey Thursday. "You know, we had two months of investigation, and there was a moment when my investigator said to me, 'Sara, the investigation is over.' And he said I could continue asking questions but, 'You've been told that the investigation is finished and at this point it's become political ... and it really doesn't matter if you're innocent or not. This is bigger than you.'"

Shourd told Winfrey that after their arrest, the group was not immediately taken to prison, but was driven around Iran for a few days, during which they endured interrogations.

"We switched hands several times and we spent the night in this small prison kind of in the middle of nowhere," she said.

She claimed their captors repeatedly promised them freedom.

"They kept telling us, 'We're going to let you go. We're going to let you go. This is nothing. We're just checking up on a few things,'" she said.

Instead, the three eventually were taken to Evin prison in Iran and all thrown into solitary confinement. Shourd, who has appeared stoic in the two news conferences since her release, told Winfrey with a faintly cracking voice about the horrible realization once they arrived.

"It didn't hit me until we arrived in Tehran and that's when we were separated for the first time," she said. "That was one of the most devastating moments, because they just tore us apart and threw us into three different cells. And I screamed and screamed all night long. That's when it hit me that we were in prison."

Still, Shourd said Iranians told the trio for the first six months that they were not being charged with espionage. Then the harsh news came from Shourd's investigator that her guilt or innocence of the charges did not matter.

"It hit me that I was part of something that was bigger than myself," she said, "something that I didn't deserve to be a part of, but I was part of it."

After more than 13 months of anxious waiting and unnerving uncertainty, Shourd was released -- but not before a few power plays were made both within the Iranian government and between Iran and the U.S.

Ahmadinejad already has used Shourd's release to call on the U.S. to free eight Iranians he claims American officials are holding.

"It would not be misplaced to ask that the U.S. government should take a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States," Ahmadinejad told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour on "This Week" last week.

Coping With Solitary Confinement: Date Nights With Strawberry Jam

Shourd told Winfrey that she endured the nearly 14 months of detention almost completely in solitary confinement, in a cell that was "eight steps by five steps."

She was not allowed to write or phone her mother, Nora, despite repeated crying and pleading to do so.

"The worst thing is thinking about my mother," she said. "I mean my whole family. But my mother and I are extremely close. ... I just thought about her terror."

Seven months into her detention, she was finally allowed a phone call.

"It was incredible just to know that she could have that relief," Shourd told Winfrey. "It was also really difficult because I felt I didn't have a lot of hope at that time. And I heard the hope in her voice and I was happy that she had hope, but I didn't have hope."

Shourd said she was terrified for the first few months, but only broke down once.

"There was only one day in prison where I really gave up. I just didn't get out of bed, didn't eat, just cried. Didn't even speak to the guards. I had to pick myself up, I had to keep going for my mom and for everyone else that loves me and for God. That's really what makes you not give up," she said.

Shourd said that after the first couple months, she was allowed to see Bauer and Fattal for an hour every day. They would spend the time, she said, in a circle holding hands. On Fridays, the three called their hour their "date night."

"The only way I could make myself look a little better was some jelly, some strawberry jelly on my lips," Shourd said with a laugh. "That was a little something."

ABC News' Lauren Vance, Michael S. James, Jason Stine, Kirit Radia, Sabrina Parise, Thea Trachtenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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