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Iran to release one of three US hikers amid pressures at home and abroad

In addition to facing outside pressures on nuclear initiatives and human rights issues such as the US hikers, Iranian officials still fear the opposition Green Movement at home.

By Staff writer / September 9, 2010

In this May 20 file photo, American hikers Shane Bauer, left, Sarah Shourd, center, and Josh Fattal, sit at the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran, Iran. Iran announced Thursday that one of the three Americans jailed for more than a year will be released Saturday.

Press TV/AP/File


Istanbul, Turkey

In an apparent bid to ease mounting global pressure on a host of issues, Iranian officials say they will release one of three US hikers held for more than a year.

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Though the US says it knows nothing of the release, journalists in Tehran received a text message from Iran’s Islamic Guidance ministry, saying they could witness the event at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Esteghlal Hotel – the same spot where the American detainees were allowed to meet their mothers before news cameras last May. [Update: Iranian officials have announced the name of the hiker: Sarah Shourd. The status of the other hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, remains uncertain.]

“Obviously we would be hearing from Iranian leaders that [they have] not given in and it has been on humanitarian grounds, but … the amount of criticism which has been building up against the Islamic regime recently has been too much,” Prof. Sadegh Zibakalam of Tehran University told Al Jazeera-English. “Maybe it’s a move trying to alleviate some of the pressure that has been building up against the Islamic regime at international level.”

The announcement comes a day after Iran said it was suspending a sentence of death by stoning of a woman convicted of adultery, after European leaders decried the sentence as “barbaric beyond words.”

Much of the outside pressure, which also includes the increasing bite of fresh UN Security Council sanctions – coupled with deeper measures from the US, Europe and, most recently, South Korea – has been driven by Iran's controversial nuclear program.

But another source of tension hits closer to home: Iran’s harassment of its beleaguered opposition leaders.

Opposition leader's house besieged

Last week in Tehran, groups of hard-line vigilantes for five days surrounded, vandalized, and laid siege to the house of Mehdi Karroubi, the cleric and former opposition presidential candidate. The action aimed explicitly to prevent Mr. Karroubi from joining pro-regime marchers as they marked Jerusalem Day on Friday, an annual event of solidarity with Palestinians that was hijacked a year ago by the opposition Green Movement to protest fraud in the June 2009 presidential election.