NEW YORK – Two Americans who were convicted of spying in Iran and spent more than two years in prison after what they said was an innocent hike in northern Iraq described hearing the screams of other prisoners, hunger strikes to demand better conditions, and living in “a world of lies and false hope” in their first public statements after returning to the United States.

The two — Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29 — appeared at a Manhattan hotel a few hours after landing at John F. Kennedy Airport, ending a diplomatic ordeal that began with their arrests in July 2009.

Appearing with them were relatives as well as Sarah Shourd, who was arrested at the same time and released in September 2010 in what Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called a humanitarian gesture.

Noticeably absent in the words of thanks uttered by the hikers and their families was gratitude toward Ahmadinejad, even though Iran’s foreign ministry called their release from Tehran’s Evin Prison a gesture of Islamic mercy. The men had been sentenced to eight years in prison.

“Releasing us is a good gesture, and no positive step should go unnoticed. We applaud the Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision regarding our case,” Fattal said. “But we want to be clear that they do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place.”

The three Americans were hostages because “Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S.,” Fattal said.

Bauer said that to this day he doesn’t know whether the three really crossed the border during what he called “our fateful hiking trip” in July 2009, when they were picked up by Iranian officials after going hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Bauer said one of the ironies of their imprisonment was that the three had long opposed U.S policies toward Iran.

The United States accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, and of supplying weapons used by Shiites against U.S. and other forces in Iraq.

But their views about the U.S. stance toward Iran did not soften their feelings toward Iran for holding them as prisoners.

To those who ask if they can forgive Iran, Bauer said: “How can we forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison so many other innocent people and prisoners of conscience?”

Fattal said the two were held in isolation for most of their time in prison and allowed just 15 minutes total of phone calls with their families. “We had to go on hunger strike repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones,” he said in his statement. “Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten.”