Two Americans Held In Iran Released On Bail

A million-dollar bail agreement secured the release Wednesday of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who had been sentenced to eight-year prison terms for illegal entry and espionage. A third American arrested with them, Sarah Shourd, was released last year. All denied any wrongdoing.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

Two American hikers held for more than two years in Iran were released today. A million dollar bail agreement secured the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, who had been sentenced to eight-year prison terms for illegal entry and espionage. A third American arrested with them, Sarah Shourd, was released last year. All of them denied any wrongdoing. Following the story from Istanbul is NPR's Peter Kenyon who joins us on the line. And Peter, this release comes after a number of false starts, including Iran's president saying last week that the release was imminent, then the courts held things up. What can you tell us about how this decision finally came together?

PETER KENYON: Well, that was the hold up, David. You're right. Ahmadinejad told NBC it would happen any day now. That was last week. The judiciary said, no, no, this is our problem; we're going to decide this, not the president. And then there was complications in getting the bail agreement signed. The lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said he needed two signatures. He got the one but the other judge was on vacation, so that took some more time. He didn't get the signature yesterday but he did get it today, and that began this waiting game, which is now ended up with the release of the two hikers.

The Gulf state of Oman, which had sent a jet last year for Sarah Shourd, the third hiker, has done that again and has also agreed to help transfer the bail money. Also Swiss diplomats are involved. The Swiss represent American interests when they can in Tehran, since the U.S. and Iran don't have diplomatic ties. And so now Bauer and Fattal are believed to be on their way to Oman, which should be the first step in their voyage back home.

GREENE: And Peter, seems from what we're hearing, is that this was a bail release. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, you know, any wrongdoing, but a bail release does not necessarily overturn their conviction. Is that your understanding?

KENYON: I believe that's right. Now Iran's state-run news agency quoted an appeals court in Tehran as saying, what's happened is the transformation of what it called the temporary arrest verdict of the two Americans into this bail agreement. That doesn't sound like anything's been overturned or vacated. Now, when Sarah Shourd was released last year, it quickly became clear that she wasn't coming back to Iran anytime soon. That is likely to prove to be the case with Bauer and Fattal, as well. However, technically, the charges against Shourd would still be pending in the preliminary court, the military court, while Bauer and Fattal, in Iran's eyes, are freed on bail pending their appeal of their convictions. And as you mentioned, all three of them have denied any wrongdoing. They said they were on an innocent hike along the Iran-Iraq border when they were seized in 2009.

GREENE: And they're friends from school. And two of them, we should say, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer, got engaged when they were both in prison together. So probably a lot to tend to when they get home and coming back to Iran - not on their list. Did the timing of this, Peter - the release comes just as Iran's president, Ahmedinejad, is making the rounds of New York at the U.N. General Assembly. Does this bolster his standing internationally, perhaps?

KENYON: It might. It'll certainly give him an opportunity to portray Iran in a positive light, something he's always keen to do. Iranian leaders like to portray themselves as beacons of defiance in a Western-dominated world. It's a message that does sometimes play well in certain parts of the country. Others will note that these three young Americans were jailed on purported espionage evidence that Tehran never produced. Nevertheless, this will be seen as a positive move by Iran, and may draw attention to Ahmadinejad, although he's getting plenty of that.

GREENE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon, reporting from Istanbul. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, David.

GREENE: Just repeat the news: two American hikers held for more than two year in Iran were released today.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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