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Middle east

Prosecutor says Iran ready to free US hiker on $500,000 bail

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-12

After days of start-and-stop statements, Tehran's chief prosecutor said Sunday that Iran was ready to release Sarah Shourd (pictured, left), one of three detained US hikers, on bail of around $500,000.

Iranian authorities are ready to release a US hiker on bail more than a year after she was first detained, Iranian state media reported Sunday, in the latest twist in a high-stakes diplomatic tussle between Tehran and Washington.

Sarah Shourd, 32, along with two friends, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were detained along the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, 2009.

On Sunday, Iranian state media quoted Tehran’s chief prosecutor as saying Shourd would be released on five billion Iranian rials (around $500,000) bail.

Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Shourd’s lawyer in Iran had been notified.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Shourd’s lawyer in Iran said he met with the three detained Americans on Sunday and he hoped Shourd would be free within three days.

Masoud Shafiei said he met Shourd, Bauer and Fattal at Tehran's Evin prison on Sunday and they appeared to be fine.

According to Shafiei, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in Iran since the two countries do not have direct diplomatic relations, is making arrangements for the $500,000 bail payment.

Sunday's announcement followed days of conflicting statements by Iranian authorities over Shourd’s release. Earlier this week, Iran announced that Shourd would be released Saturday as an act of clemency to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But the judiciary abruptly halted her release, apparently indicating that the case had to go through the courts.

Iranian authorities have accused the trio of spying, but they have not been charged.
The families and friends of the detained Americans however reject the accusations and say the three were hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan when they accidentally wandered into Iranian territory.

But in a July report in the US weekly The Nation, local villagers said the hikers were detained on the Iraqi side of the border.

Shourd, Bauer and Fattal were living in Damascus, Syria, and had travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan for a trekking vacation, according to their family and friends.

While Shourd was teaching English in Damascus, Bauer is a freelance journalist and photographer whose reports on Iraq have been published in US publications such as The Nation.

A brief meeting in Tehran

Shourd has been held in solitary confinement during her detention in Iran, her mother Nora Shourd told FRANCE 24 in July while on a European tour to raise awareness of her daughter’s plight. The Berkeley, California native was allowed brief daily meetings with Bauer and Fattal, who shared a cell in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

The mothers of the three American citizens travelled to Iran in May and were able to meet the trio during a two-day stay.

According to Shourd, her daughter was suffering from health problems and was being denied medical treatment.

Further complicating US-Iranian relations

The case of the three US hikers has further complicated US-Iranian relations, which are already fraught over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

In July, the news of a missing Iranian scientist dramatically showing up at the Pakistani embassy in Washington sparked hopes that the three US hikers could be released.

On July 13, Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri surfaced at the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington, apparently requesting to be returned home and claiming he was abducted by US agents. US officials however denied that he was abducted and maintained that he was in the US of his own free will.

Hours after the news broke, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated Washington’s request that the three hikers be released and allowed to return to their families on a humanitarian basis.

In a phone interview with FRANCE 24 though, a US State Department official said that the US government has repeatedly called for the hikers’ to be freed. But she denied reports of any negotiations for their release.


Date created : 2010-09-12

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