Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Freed Britons say Iranians coerced false statements

April 7, 2007

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— British sailors and marines freed by Iran said Friday they were blindfolded, isolated in cold stone cells and tricked into fearing execution while being coerced into falsely saying they had entered Iranian waters.

They said there was no doubt the 15 crew members were in Iraq's territorial waters when they were seized by heavily armed boats of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. They also said their jailers had singled out the only woman among the captives for use in propaganda.

Iran, which has been celebrating the incident as a victory, quickly rejected the charges, dismissing a news conference held by six of the freed personnel as "propaganda" and "a show." Iranian state TV accused British leaders of "dictating" the crew's statements.

Appearing a day after being flown home to reunions with their families, the eight sailors and seven marines reported undergoing constant psychological pressure and being threatened with seven years in prison if they did not say they intruded into Iranian waters.

They said their captors also lined them up against a wall one night to the ominous sound of weapons cocking behind their heads.

"At some points I did have fears that we would not survive," Operator Maintainer Arthur Batchelor, 20, the youngest sailor among the captives, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Speaking at the news conference with five colleagues, the boat team's commander, Royal Navy Lt. Felix Carman, said the prisoners were harshly interrogated during 13 days in custody and slept in stone cells on piles of blankets.

"All of us were kept in isolation. We were interrogated most nights and presented with two options: If we admitted that we'd strayed, we'd be on a plane to (Britain) pretty soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison," he said.

Carman, who was one of the captives who appeared in Iranian videos seeming to admit being in Iran's waters, disavowed his earlier comment.

"Let me make this clear - irrespective of what was said in the past - when we were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard we were inside internationally recognized Iraqi territorial waters," he said.

Royal Marine Joe Tindell said he came to believe one of his colleagues had been executed on the second day of their ordeal.

The 21-year-old said the crew believed they were being taken to the British Embassy in Tehran to be released, but were instead dumped in a holding facility.

"We had a blindfold and plastic cuffs, hands behind our backs, heads against the wall. ... There were weapons cocking," Tindell told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "Someone said, I quote: 'Lads, lads, I think we're going to get executed.' ... Someone was sick and as far as I was concerned he had just had his throat cut."

Britain's top naval officer said boarding operations would be suspended while a review is conducted.

"Coalition operations continue under U.K. command," said Adm. Jonathon Band, head of the Royal Navy. "Currently, our (operations) have been suspended while we do that review."

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