Iran releases two Americans jailed as spies
Published 22/09/2011 | 05:00
TWO Americans convicted of espionage in Iran and given long prison sentences finally flew out of the country yesterday after prolonged negotiations.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were held for two years after they were arrested in the mountains of Kurdistan and accused of spying and illegal entry after allegedly straying into Iranian territory.
They were reported to have left Tehran in a plane after being released from Evin Prison on bail of $500,000 (€366,000) each. They were expected to stop first in Oman and then return to the US.
Negotiations for the release of the two men, both aged 29, were handled by Swiss and Omani diplomats since the US has no diplomatic relations with Tehran.
Their Iranian lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, was reported by news agencies as saying: "I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer."
Their final release was delayed by differences within the Iranian leadership and a difficulty in finding two judges to sign their release papers.
The timing of their release was probably determined by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's departure on Monday to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
He had earlier announced that the two Americans would be released only for the Iranian judiciary to say that he did not have the authority to free them.
Mr Bauer, Mr Fattal and a third American, Sarah Shourd -- friends from their days as students at the University of California at Berkeley -- were detained in July 2009 when they were hiking at a narrow gorge in the mountains on the Iraqi-Iranian border, west of Halabja.
The international frontier is particularly confusing in this area and it would not be difficult to stray across it. Ms Shourd was freed last year on bail but last month Mr Bauer and Mr Fattal were sentenced to eight years in prison.
The three Americans have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them.
Mr Bauer is a freelance journalist who had been working for a short period in Baghdad, and Mr Fattal is an environmental activist. Mr Bauer became engaged to Ms Shourd while in prison.
The Iranian state has a long history of imprisoning foreigners and using them as leverage, dating from the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.