U.S. Hikers Spend 444th Day in Prison in Iran

U.S. hikers detained in a private section of a Tehran prison.

SHIRAZ, Iran, Oct. 18, 2010— -- American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer spent day 444 in detention in Iran like the previous 443, in a special section of Tehran's Evin prison, separated from the other prisoners. 444 days has long symbolized the U.S. embassy hostage crisis, when, from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981, armed Iranian students held 52 Americans hostage after seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Fattal's brother Alex said it's a milestone the hikers and their families never expected to reach. But it's now clear they will add to it. Iranian officials tell ABC News they will face trial for spying.

"It's just another heartbreaking day," Alex Fattal told ABC News.

The hikers' continued detention stands in contrast to the relief for Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi, who was released from Evin on Saturday after two and a half years– more than 900 days – behind bars.

"We welcome the release of Reza Taghavi. His punishment did not fit the alleged 'crime,'" spokesman P.J. Crowley told ABC News. "The hikers are in the very same situation. Having crossed over an unmarked border, they have certainly spent enough time in custody. If the Iranian government believes in justice, they should be released."

Held in the same prison as the hikers, Taghavi was arrested in May 2008, accused of passing $200 to a anti-regime terrorist group called "Tondar." Taghavi maintained – and the Iranian authorities eventually agreed - that he did so unwittingly, carrying what he thought was a gift to someone in need in Tehran.

"I didn't do anything wrong, someone just asked me take this money to help someone," he said.

However, before he leaves Iran, Taghavi is meeting with victims of a bombing at a mosque in Shiraz in 2008, which Tondar claimed responsibility for. Fourteen people were killed. As he visited the mosque, some still accused him – and the U.S. government – of supporting the group. Tondar has an office in Los Angeles for its media and web operations, which often criticize the Iranian government.

"I blame American because Tondar is allowed to do their work freely in America," 32-year-old Ali Reza, who lost an arm in the explosion, told us.

On Tuesday, Taghavi will meet victims of attacks blamed on another anti-regime group, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). Sarah Shourd made a similar stop before she was allowed to leave Iran in September.

U.S. Hikers in Iran: Day 444

On Saturday, ABC News was the only news organizaton allowed to witness Taghavi's release.

"Sometimes I feel relief, sometimes, I feel angry. What happened? 2 ½ years for what?" he told us. "I'm 71 yrs old. I don't have time. Two-and-a-half years is a long time for a 71-year-old man to be in jail."

His wife Mahnaz met him outside their apartment in north Tehran, the two of them alternating tears with laughs.

"All I want is to take him home to Los Angeles to see his children, his family," she said.

Taghavi described imprisonment as exhausting, living with 33 fellow inmates in a cell with only 16 beds. Just the oldest inmates, including himself, were able to avoid sleeping on the floor. To pass the time, he read books from the library and looked forward to Wednesdays, when episodes of "24" were shown in the prison ampitheater. He said hardest part was not knowing when he would be released.

"It was very hard, every day, counting the days, and thinking it's going to be soon," he said. "I was told it's going to be next week, nothing happens. It's going to be next week, nothing happens."

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