AFP: A senior prosecutor said on Sunday that Iran will release US hiker Sarah Shourd on bail, as he criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government for interfering in judicial issues.
by Hiedeh Farmani
TEHRAN, September 12, 2010 (AFP) – A senior prosecutor said on Sunday that Iran will release US hiker Sarah Shourd on bail, as he criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government for interfering in judicial issues.
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Shourd, one of three US hikers detained in Iran for more than a year, had been granted bail on health grounds on a surety of about 500,000 dollars.
“For the female defendant (Shourd), bail has been set at five billion Iranian rials (about 500,000 US dollars),” the official IRNA news agency quoted Dolatabadi as saying.
“She can be freed by posting the bail,” he said, adding the decision was taken after a “judge confirmed Ms. Shourd’s illness.”
Shourd’s mother Nora told AFP last month her 32-year-old daughter was being held in solitary confinement despite suffering from a pre-cancerous cervical condition, a lump in her breast and depression.
Shourd, arrested along with fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 after straying into Iran from Iraq, was expected to have been freed on Saturday, but those hopes were dashed by legal technicalities.
The United States on Sunday voiced cautious optimism that Iran would free the hiker.
“Obviously we’re hopeful and encouraged by this news but there have been starts and stops in this before and until that actually happens, you know, we’re on a wait-and-see basis,” White House adviser David Axelrod told NBC.
The lawyer acting for the hikers, Masoud Shafii, told Iran’s ISNA news agency on Sunday that Shourd could be freed later in the day.
Speaking to AFP, he said his clients had been charged with “espionage and illegal entry,” which they “rejected.”
The three previously insisted they entered Iran by mistake after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Shourd’s release could ease tensions between Washington and Tehran, which have heightened in recent months over Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment programme.
Her case has highlighted deep divisions between Ahmadinejad’s government and conservative-run institutions like the judiciary.
On Sunday, Dolatabadi criticised the government directly, saying “releasing information on judicial cases should not be done by government officials, and judicial authorities should handle it.”
And prominent conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli hit out at Ahmadinejad directly, accusing him of pushing for Shourd’s release.
“Such actions will intensify (American) pressure day by day (on Iran)… This move by Mr. President is also an insult to the Iranian nation,” he told Fars news agency.
“Internally, such behaviour by the government… will be read as humiliation for the judicial branch and will question its independence.”
Dolatabadi reiterated the three Americans were engaged in espionage.
“The case is nearly complete and the judge has issued an indictment for the three Americans accused of spying,” he said, adding Bauer and Fattal, both aged 28, had been remanded in custody.
“It has been proven that they illegally entered through the Kurdistan border. Also the equipment and supplies they were carrying are only used for spying,” Mehr news agency quoted Dolatabadi as saying.
Shafii said he went to court on Sunday with his clients, after which he told the Swiss embassy and the hikers’ families about Shourd’s bail.
“Whenever they raise it and pay, she can be freed immediately and can leave the country,” he said, adding the period of detention for Bauer and Fattal had been extended by two months.
“We have objected to the extended detention,” he said. Shafii also said that no trial date has yet been fixed.
The Swiss embassy manages US interests in Iran as Washington and Tehran have had no direct diplomatic ties since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Washington, including President Barack Obama, and human rights watchdogs have called on Iran to release the three hikers.
In May, Iran allowed visits to the trio by their mothers, who reported Shourd and Bauer had become engaged while behind bars.