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British Service Personnel Describe Ordeal

British service personnel at press conference today (TV screen shot) April 6, 2007 -- The British navy personnel recently released by Iran have said categorically that they were not in Iranian waters when they were captured on March 23.

Speaking at a news conference at Royal Marine Base Chivenor in Devon, England, British Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman described their treatment at the hands of the Iranian authorities.

"Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure. Later, we were stripped and then dressed in pajamas," Carman said. "The next few nights we spent in stone cells, approximately eight feet by six [2.4 by 1.8 meters], sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation."

In a joint statement, the group said they were threatened with up to seven years in jail by their captors if they did not admit to entering Iranian territorial waters.

"We were interrogated most nights and given two options," the group said in a statement. "If we admitted that we had strayed, we would be back on a plane to the U.K. pretty soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison."

Psychological Pressure

Pressure put upon them included keeping them blindfolded when they were taken from one point to another, with soldiers with cocked weapons always accompanying them, making it uncertain what was their destination or their fate. Later in their captivity they were taken out in the evening, and permitted to spend some hours together.

After their arrest in the Gulf, the service personnel were taken to a prison in Tehran.

"We were blindfolded, our hands were bound, we were forced up against a wall," they said in their statement, adding that they suffered "constant psychological pressure."

The 15-member team of sailors and marines were arrested on March 23 while carrying out a UN-mandated inspection of shipping in the Gulf to control against smuggling. They said they were in no position to resist arrest as they checked a freighter.

The crew members, in two rubber boats and lightly armed, were surrounded by speedboats of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Navy. The British naval crew said the Iranian boats came with clear intention to use force if necessary and were heavily armed.

The British crew said their detention had been "clearly illegal" and they described the entire incident as a "media stunt" staged by the Iranian authorities.

Propaganda Tool

None of the crew members today directly acknowledged they had admitted to trespass, despite statements televised on Iranian television in which they appeared to do so.

They said that they were careful to respond to Iranian demands they apologize by using formula like “to the best of our knowledge,” or “from the information presented to us by Iranians,” or we “appear” to have entered into Iranian waters and “regret” that. That leaves open question of whether the statements were edited before broadcast.

They especially condemned the treatment accorded to the only woman in the group, Faye Turney, saying she was kept in special isolation and used as a "propaganda tool." The group said they were "incredibly proud" of Turney and the "highly professional" way she conducted herself throughout their 13-day detention.

"The fact that she's a woman has been used as a propaganda tool by Iran. This is deeply regrettable," the group said in their statement. Turney was not present at the press conference.

The sailors and marines were released in Tehran on April 5 after a 13-day diplomatic standoff between Tehran and London.

(compiled from agency reports)

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