TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's Foreign Ministry denied on Tuesday claims by two Americans jailed in the Islamic state for more than two years that they had been held because of their nationality, state television reported.
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were arrested along with their friend Sarah Shourd on the border with Iraq in 2009 where they said they were hiking. They were found guilty of illegal entry and espionage and were sentenced last month to eight years in prison.
Iran released the men last week after Oman paid bail of $1 million. Shourd was released on $500,000 bail a year ago.
"Their detention was due to illegal entry and espionage and it had nothing to do with their nationality or the existing political issues between the Iranian and American governments," Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi was quoted as saying by state television.
After arriving in New York on Sunday, Bauer and Fattal said the case against them was a "total sham" with "ridiculous lies that depicted us as being involved in an elaborate American-Israeli conspiracy to undermine Iran."
"The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran," Bauer said. "We were convicted of espionage because we are American. It's that simple. No evidence was ever presented against us."
Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran after the country's 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. The Swiss embassy represents U.S. interests in Tehran.
During 781 days in jail, Fattal and Bauer had 15 minutes of phone calls with their families and one short visit from their mothers, Fattal said on Sunday. They staged repeated hunger strikes over demands they be given letters sent by their families, he said.
"It was clear to us from the very beginning that we were hostages. This is the most accurate term because, despite certain knowledge of our innocence, the Iranian government has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S."
Qashqavi said during their detention, the pair had "enjoyed all the rights of a prisoner and even more."
Washington has denied they were spies and President Barack Obama said they should never have been detained.
Iran and the United States are at odds over the Islamic state's disputed nuclear program, which Washington says is a cover to build bombs. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear program is aimed at generating power and has so far refused to halt its nuclear work.
(Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Rosalind Russell)