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Hikers face hard time in Iran's tough Evin prison

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.S. hikers sentenced in Iran
  • Iran's Evin Prison has a reputation as a dismal, dangerous place
  • Sarah Shourd said Fattal and Bauer were roughed up
  • Journalist Roxana Saberi was held for 100 days at Evin
  • Saberi says she was threatened during her imprisonment
  • Evin Prison
  • Iran

(CNN) -- The grim stories of two women who endured long-stretches of solitary confinement in Iran's most notorious prison are chilling omens for the two jailed U.S. hikers who each reportedly received an eight-year prison sentence on Saturday.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been abused and assaulted in Evin Prison, their friend Sarah Shourd said in a BBC interview in June. Evin is noted for its harsh conditions and its wing for political prisoners.

"My worst fear is that they're not safe," said Shourd, who was arrested with Fattal and Bauer in July 2009 but was freed for medical reasons in September after 410 days of solitary confinement.

The two men were sentenced on charges of spying and illegal entry.

Shourd said a guard at Evin was furious that Fattal took extra food and pushed him down the stairs. The guard repeatedly threw Bauer -- Shourd's fiance -- against a wall of his cell until his head began bleeding.

She said the three had feared that they would be executed soon after they were arrested, when a guard began cocking his gun.

In July 2009, Shourd, Fattal, and Bauer were hiking in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish area along the border with Iran when they were arrested by Iranian police. Shourd said they accidentally strayed across the border. Iranian authorities say the three crossed into Iran illegally.

Twice, they feared for their lives as guards loaded them into a vehicle to a mysterious location and cocked their weapons, Shourd said. Terrified, they held hands, cried out and begged for their lives.

In September, Shourd spoke to CNN's "American Morning" about her stint at Evin, where she was in solitary confinement.

She said she got through the ordeal of imprisonment by thinking of her mother and loved ones and "just knowing I had to come back to them, you know, bruised but unbroken."

As she wept while prison guards slammed the door of her cell and walked away, Shourd understood what Fattal and Bauer were coping with.

"I can see them in their cramped little cell with very little sunlight and they only get out an hour a day and, you know, they exercise side by side on a space like the size of a towel."

Asked whether she was physically abused, she said no.

"It is all psychological. And it's just the hardest thing, of course, is being so alienated from your family."

She remembers how she begged to make a phone call, a request that was finally granted seven months into her captivity.

"By the time I got a phone call, I lost hope that it was going to happen," she told CNN.

"There's just so many ups and downs. You think it will be over and then it goes on and on and on."

American journalist Roxana Saberi also spent time in solitary confinement at Evin and spent hours thinking: Is it going to ever end?

"I felt anger toward God, as well. I said, 'Why are you punishing me? Why don't you save me?'" Saberi told CNN's "American Morning" in September.

She was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released after 100 days in May 2009. She said the ordeal was a hard one.

"When you're alone, you feel helpless. You might feel hopeless. At first you might be in a state of denial. You ask or tell yourself: 'I can't accept this. It is just a nightmare. It is going to end.'"

Saberi never knew whether she would be able to speak with her lawyer or when she might see her parents again.

She spent her 32nd birthday in jail, in the midst of a hunger strike. She chose to stop eating because her body was the only thing she could control. It was her only weapon against the regime. The Iranians promised her freedom if she would admit she was a spy. They threatened her to keep her silent about her time in Evin.

Saberi said she was threatened by her captors if she spoke about "certain things." One guard told her he would sign her death warrant.

She said they told her: "I think you've seen how capable we are. We have agents all over the world and we can find you anywhere. You might be reporting in Afghanistan and we can kill you and make it look like you died in a car accident."