x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Two American hikers jailed as spies released by Iran

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were freed after two years in jail when their Iranian lawyer obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal and U$1m bail was posted.

A picture released by Iran's state-run Press TV in February shows US hikers Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal, who have been freed from prison in Tehran.
A picture released by Iran's state-run Press TV in February shows US hikers Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal, who have been freed from prison in Tehran.

TEHRAN // Two Americans jailed in Iran as spies have been released from Tehran's prison after more than two years in custody.

Associated Press reporters saw a convoy of vehicles with Swiss and Omani diplomats leaving Evin prison today with the freed Americans inside. They headed to Tehran international airport.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were freed after their Iranian lawyer obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal. A US$1 million (Dh3.67m) bail - $500,000 for each man - was posted.

The pair's Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, had said earlier today: "The case is over. The court has ordered that they be freed on bail."

The two were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 and sentenced last month to eight years each in prison. A third American arrested with them, Sarah Shourd, was freed last year on bail.

Switzerland represents American interests in Iran because the US has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and the prisoners are expected to be taken to Oman after their release.

The case of Bauer and Fattal, who were convicted of spying for the United States, has deepened strains in the already fraught relationship between Washington and Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was first to mention last week that the Americans' could be released, is in the United States and is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

Mr Shafiei said the bail of $500,000 for each of the men was posted after some last-minute bank problems were resolved. He did not say who put up the money.

The release of the pair will likely follow the pattern of the release of Sarah Shourd, who was originally arrested with the two men, last September after a $500,000 bails was posted. She was then flown on a private plane to the Omani capital, Muscat. Last week, Oman dispatched a plane belonging to the Gulf country's ruler to fetch the two Americans if the freedom-for-bail was reached.

Omani officials declined to comment on the ongoing proceedings for the Americans' release. They only said the private plane, sent from Muscat to the Iranian capital last Wednesday, was still in Tehran.

TOman has close ties with both Tehran and Washington and plays a strategic role in the region by sharing control with Iran of the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which is the route for 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic.

The three Americans, friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley, have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them.

Their families and the U. government say they were just hiking in northern Iraq's scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region when they may have accidentally strayed over the unmarked border with Iran.

Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while in prison.

It was not clear where the two men will be reunited with their families after their release. The last direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010 when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran.