AFP: Iran released American hiker Sarah Shourd on bail Tuesday, in a case which has highlighted deep divisions between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government and the conservative judiciary.
By Jay Deshmukh and Hiedeh Farmani
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran released American hiker Sarah Shourd on bail Tuesday, in a case which has highlighted deep divisions between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government and the conservative judiciary.
“Sarah Shourd has been handed over to the officials of the Swiss embassy in Iran which represents US interests after she was freed from jail,” Tehran prosecution said on its website.
“The case inspector informed the Tehran prosecutor about a bank guarantee concerning the posting of bail and after the prosecutor’s agreement, he issued the order for her freedom.”
Shourd was arrested along with fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 after straying into Iran from Iraq.
The two other hikers have been remanded in custody for two months.
The release of Shourd, 32, could help ease the tension between arch-foes Iran and the United States to some extent which has peaked in recent months over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Her lawyer Masoud Shafii too confirmed her release.
“My client has just been freed from Evin prison,” he told AFP. Iran’s ISNA news agency further quoted him saying that “there is nothing to prevent my client from leaving the country.”
The Swiss embassy in Tehran said that it did not have confirmation of the release, but a diplomat there added that “the release will take place very soon,” and that Shourd would be leaving Iran later Tuesday.
Shourd’s lawyer said she would leave Iran for the Gulf state of Oman, where her mother had arrived from the United States, but did not say when.
The Swiss embassy manages US interests in Iran as Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had said on Sunday that Shourd would be released on bail of around 500,000 dollars.
Iranian authorities have accused the three Americans with “spying and illegally entering the country.”
The three have rejected the charges, insisting that they mistakenly entered Iran after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Some Iranian officials had claimed last week that Shourd was to be released on Saturday, but Dolatabadi had ruled it out citing pending legal issues.
Her release finally came after some hiccups which saw the judiciary accusing the government of pushing for her release, while some conservative lawmakers criticising Ahmadinejad directly for freeing her at a time when tension between Tehran and Washington is at its peak.
On Sunday, Dolatabadi issued a scathing criticism of the government, 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 had hit out directly at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of pushing for Shourd’s release, which would “intensify (US) pressure day by day” on Iran.
Shourd’s mother Nora told AFP last month her 32-year-old daughter was held in solitary confinement despite suffering from a pre-cancerous cervical condition, a lump in her breast and depression.
In May, Iran allowed visits to the trio by their mothers, who reported Shourd and Bauer, 28, had become engaged while behind bars.
Last month, Shourd’s mother said Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, appealed to Tehran to end the solitary confinement of her daughter.
Washington, including President Barack Obama, and human rights watchdogs had repeatedly called for the release of the three Americans.
Supporters of the trio meanwhile rejoiced immediately at the news of Shourd’s release on a Facebook page dedicated to the three hikers.
“Praise God! Now Release the others, Shane and Josh!” wrote Ellen Dannan, one of over 20,000 “Free the Hikers” fans.