Iran’s Justice Ministry has denied, via the nation’s state television network, that the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal is imminent, directly contradicting remarks on Tuesday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told two American media outlets the men could be freed this week.
“The two Americans are going to stay in prison for a bit longer. Reports of their imminent release are wrong,’’ a judiciary official said, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV.
Earlier (originally posted on the morning of 9/13):
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that two American hikers who were sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of espionage and illegal border crossing would be released on bail in “a couple of days.”
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in July 2009 after walking across an unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was also arrested but released last year on $500,000 bail. The two men, their lawyer said, would be freed on the same bail—$500,000 each.
Ahmadinejad told The Washington Post that the pair would be released as a “unilateral humanitarian gesture.” —BF
Ahmadinejad appears to be crediting himself for [the hikers’] expected release ahead of his visit to New York for the UN general assembly meeting this month.
In August, an Iranian court sentenced the two men each to three years for illegally entering Iran and a further five years for spying for US intelligence services. Their lawyer lodged an appeal against the sentences and Amnesty International said their conviction made a “mockery of justice”.
The court’s verdict was at odds with earlier comments made by Iranian foreign ministry officials who said before the trial that the pair would be freed. The contrast highlighted a growing rift between Iran’s judiciary, which is close to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Ahmadinejad’s government.
It is not clear why Iran has finally decided to grant them apparent clemency, but international pressure and Iran’s isolation in the region may have been factors. A deal might have been struck for the lifting of a travel ban on Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency.