Iran releases US hikers on eve of Ahmadinejad's UN speech
Iran today set free two US hikers accused of espionage whose release had been stalled by a rift between President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian judiciary.
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced their impending release last week, but his disclosure was quickly rebuffed by the judiciary, with whom he has been locked in a power struggle for months. The clerics said Mr. Ahmadinejad did not have the authority to make such a decision. At the time, the judiciary said that it was still examining pleas by the hikers' lawyer.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were picked up with their traveling companion Sarah Shourd along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. Ms. Shourd was released on bail for "humanitarian" reasons a year ago, but all three were charged last month with espionage and illegal entry and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were to pay $500,000 bail each, the Associated Press reports. The announcement comes on the eve of Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York tomorrow. According to the Washington Post, the hikers were the "dominant backdrop" of the US and Iranian relationship as he arrived in New York, and their release may earn him some political goodwill amid a standoff over Iran's nuclear program – though perhaps he would have garnered more if it hadn't been for the judiciary's rebuff.