Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:05 am (KSA) 21:05 pm (GMT)

Iran frees female US hiker after year in jail

Shourd was detained near Iran's border with Iraq in late July 2009 along with two male companions (File)
Shourd was detained near Iran's border with Iraq in late July 2009 along with two male companions (File)

American hiker and accused spy Sarah Shourd left arrived in Oman after Iran freed her on bail on Tuesday, in a case highlighting deep divisions between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the judiciary.

Shourd's mother Nora, her uncle, and the U.S. ambassador to Oman Richard Schmierer were at the airport to meet the freed hiker, who arrived aboard a special flight, an Omani official said.

Shourd was freed on bail of around $500,000 (€391,000), which was paid in Oman at Iran's state-run Bank Melli, Iran's English-language Press TV reported, quoting Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.

 We remain hopeful that Iran will demonstrate renewed compassion by ensuring the return of Shane, Josh and all the other missing or detained Americans in Iran 
US President Barack Obama

Shourd was detained near Iran's border with Iraq in late July 2009 along with two male companions, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. Their families say the three were on a mountain hike in northern Iraq at the time.

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Sarah's release and immediately called for freeing the other two hikers.

"While Sarah has been released, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal remain prisoners in Iran who have committed no crime," he said.

"We remain hopeful that Iran will demonstrate renewed compassion by ensuring the return of Shane, Josh and all the other missing or detained Americans in Iran."

The release of Shourd, 32, could help ease to some extent the tension between arch-foes Iran and the United States that has peaked in recent months over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

Swiss embassy played key role

 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 
Iranian prosecution

The Swiss embassy has worked intensely in securing Shourd's release as the mission manages U.S. interests in Iran, with Washington and Tehran having no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Earlier Tuesday, the Tehran prosecution announced the release of Shourd.

"Sarah Shourd has been handed over to the officials of the Swiss embassy in Iran, which represents U.S. interests, after she was freed from jail," the 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, Bauer and Fattal have rejected the charges levied against them, insisting that they mistakenly entered the Islamic republic after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The detention of Bauer and Fattal has been "extended by two months... Therefore there is no talk of the release of the two," Dolatabadi said in comments translated by Press TV.

He said the two can object to their detention, but it is "the revolutionary court which is in charge of such espionage charges. We should wait for the trial to be held."

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 came after some hiccups, with the judiciary accusing the government of pushing for her release, while some conservative lawmakers criticized 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 hit out directly at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of pushing for Shourd's release, which would "intensify (U.S.) pressure day by day" on Iran.

Shourd's mother Nora told AFP last month her daughter was being 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.

Under Iran's Islamic law, espionage can be punishable by execution.

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