Iran's Ahmadinejad announces imminent release of two US hikers
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that US hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be released within two days. The Revolutionary Guard carried the message, implying support for the deal.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that two American hikers accused of spying will be released within two days in a “unilateral humanitarian gesture," just days before he heads to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly.Skip to next paragraph
The fate of the arrested Americans has from the start been closely tied to the hostile relationship between the US and Islamic Republic, as well as to Iran’s own turbulent internal politics.
In two separate interviews with US media in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said that he was personally trying to arrange the freedom of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who have spent more than two years in Iranian prison.
The two were arrested in late July 2009 with their friend Sarah Shourd for crossing illegally into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq. Ms. Shourd was released one year ago on “humanitarian” and medical grounds, Iranian officials said at the time, after posting $500,000 bail.
Iran convicted all three of espionage in August, giving eight-year sentences for spying during a closed-door trial in which no evidence was made public. The three accused and their families reject the charges, and say they inadvertently strayed into Iran while hiking along the remote, unmarked border.
Mr. Ahmadinejad told NBC News that he expected an "arrangement" to be made: “I think these two persons will be freed in a couple days.”
Last year, the Iranian president tried to take credit for the release of Ms. Shourd just before his trip to the UN, rankling the judiciary and delaying her freedom by several days. But this year, despite growing opposition from conservative rivals and clerics, Ahmadinejad appears more confident about the release of the two remaining Americans.
“I am helping to arrange for their release in a couple of days so they will be able to return home,” Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post. “This is of course going to be a unilateral humanitarian gesture.”
$500,000 bail set for both hikers
The chances of an imminent release appeared bolstered by a report by Iran’s Fars News Agency, which has close links to the Revolutionary Guard. It quoted the lawyer for the three Americans as saying that the Revolutionary Court handling the case had set the bail amount.
“Branch 36 of the revision [appeals] court has consented to release these two American nationals on a bail of half a million dollars,” Fars quoted Masoud Shafaie, the Iranian lawyer for the three, as saying.
“The families of these two Americans and the Swiss Embassy which hosts the US interests section in Tehran have been informed of this issue, and Bauer and Fattal can leave Iran, similar to Sarah Shourd,” Mr. Shafaie was quoted as saying.
Photographs of each of the three Americans – all of them graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, who were traveling and working in the Middle East when they were detained – were published on the Fars website beside images of the seal of the US Department of Defense.