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Iran 'to release' American hiker on bail

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 September 2010

An American woman detained in Iran for more than a year after being arrested on the Iraq border accused of spying, is expected to fly home on $500,000 (£325,000) bail due to health problems.

Iran to release American hiker Sarah Shourd on bail (Reuters)

Sarah Shourd was detained with her two friends Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal at the border on 31 July 2009, for allegedly spying.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki confirmed the release, but as yet there are no details of her exact release date.

He said: "Based on the decision of the judiciary, this woman will be released".

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said the conditions of her bail did not bar her from leaving the country, though her case will still go to trial along with those of the other two Americans, who are to remain in custody.

Dowlatabadi told Iranian state television that judges had agreed to release Ms Shourd and convert her detention to $500,000 bail because she is sick.

Ms Shourd's mother claims she has been denied medical treatment for serious health problems including a breast lump and pre-cancerous cervical cells.

Her lawyer Masoud Shafiei met all three detainees on Sunday in the prosecutor's office at the prison, the first such meeting since he was appointed their lawyer in 2009.

Ms Shourd has been held in solitary confinement and was supposed to be released as an act of clemency to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, after the intervention of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But the judiciary abruptly halted her release on Saturday, indicating such a decision would first have to go through the courts.

Spying accusations
Iran accused the three Americans of illegally entering Iran and spying in a case that has deepened tensions with Washington. Relations between the two nations was already fraught with the US pushing for tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Relatives of the detainees say they were hiking in Iraq's scenic north and that if they did cross the border, they did so unwittingly.

Dowlatabadi says there is enough evidence against the three Americans for a trial to go ahead.

It is not clear whether a bail payment for Sarah Shourd will violate US trade sanctions or whether a special waiver will be required.

Any link between Shourd's bail and the return to Iran in July of nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri has been dismissed by the prosecutor.

Iran had accused the US of abducting Amiri, while Washington said he was a willing defector who later changed his mind.

Iranian political infighting
Ahmadinejad has previously suggested the Americans could be traded for Iranians held by the US.

But the judiciary appears to be flexing its muscles in an internal political struggle with the president.

On Friday, the foreign ministry announced plans for her release on Saturday, stating that Ahmadinejad had personally intervened and that it reflected the "special viewpoint of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the dignity of women."

Hours later, in an embarrassing rebuke to Ahmadinejad, judiciary officials said the release was off.

Analysts say the mixed signals point to one of the main fissures in Iran's conservative leadership: Ahmadinejad and his allies against conservative rivals in the powerful judiciary overseen by Iran's supreme leader.

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