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Iran sets bail for release of US backpacker 'spies'

A year after their fellow traveller Sarah Shroud was released on bail, Iran agrees to let Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal go free.

Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal will be released on bail, though the US cannot pay the fee directly.
Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal will be released on bail, though the US cannot pay the fee directly.
Image: AP Photo/Shaam News Network

AN IRANIAN COURT has set bail of $500,000 (€367,000) each for two American men arrested more than two years ago and convicted on spy-related charges, clearing the way for their release a year after a similar bail-for-freedom arrangement secured the release of a third fellow traveller.

A court said the court would begin the process to free Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after payment of the bail, which must be arranged through third parties because of US economic sanctions on Iran.

But the timing of the court’s decision is similar to last year’s bail deal mediated by the Gulf state of Oman that freed a third American, Sarah Shourd.

“They accepted to set bail to release,” a lawyer told the Associated Press after leaving the court. “The amount is the same for Sarah.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an interview aired on NBC’s ‘Today’ show, predicted the Americans could be freed “in a couple of days.”

He described the bail offer as a “humanitarian gesture” and repeated complaints about attention for Iranians held in US prisons.

The Americans were arrested in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border and accused by Iran of espionage. The trio have denied the charges and say they may have mistakenly crossed into Iran when they stepped off a dirt road while hiking near a waterfall in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

‘Spying’

Last month, Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were sentenced to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States. They appealed the verdicts. Shourd’s case remains open.

Shafiei said he has passed along details of the court’s decision to the Swiss Embassy, which represent US interests in Iran since there are no diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said officials were in touch with Swiss envoys “to get more details from the Iranian authorities.”

Iran may have timed the court decision to coincide with Ahmadinejad’s visit later this month to New York for the general assembly of the United Nations. Last year, Shourd was released on bail just as Ahmadinejad was heading for the annual gathering of world leaders.

But Ahmadinejad was not likely involved in any decisions on the case. Iran’s judiciary is controlled by the country’s ruling clerics, who have been waging relentless pressure on Ahmadinejad and his allies as part of an internal power struggle.

The diplomatic pathways for possible bail payments was not immediately clear. Officials in Oman — which has close ties with the US and Iran — did not immediately respond for comment on whether they could again offer assistance.

The prime minister of Pakistan, which handles Iran’s diplomatic interests in the US, has been in Iran since Sunday. But there has been no indication that Yousef Raza Gilani is playing any role in the case.

There was no immediate comment from the families of Bauer and Fattal.

Read: Iran may release US hostage – if it gets $500k bail >

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Associated Press

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