American Hikers Released From Iranian Prison

Two Americans jailed in Iran for more than two years were freed on bail Wednesday. The government of Oman has dispatched a plane to Tehran to fly Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal out of the country after more than two years in prison. They were convicted of spying, charges they denied.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The ordeal of two young American men held for more than two years in an Iranian prison is finally over. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were accused of espionage and sentenced to eight years. They denied the charges, maintaining that they were on a hiking vacation in northern Iraq when they accidentally strayed into Iranian territory.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports on the long and complicated process that led to their release.

MIKE SHUSTER: Iran's intelligence minister claimed that Bauer and Fattal were spies, but Iran's government never presented any evidence that they were involved in espionage during the long and fitful legal procedure the two were put through. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released a year ago, also after payment of what the Iranians described as bail, but which seemed much more like a ransom payment of half a million dollars.

Before the two men were released, each step of the process was cloaked in mystery and confusion. Last week, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, planning to be in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, announced the two would soon be released. But Iran's judiciary said no, Ahmadinejad doesn't have the authority to make such an announcement.

Further delays occurred as the lawyer for the two sought judges' signatures on release documents. When Ahmadinejad arrived in New York this week, he insisted in an interview with ABC News that their release was imminent.

P: (Through Translator) We didn't make this decision under pressure. It is a humanitarian decision. Although a lot of people are in prison in American prisons, in the United States and Europe, on ships, unfortunately there are a lot of people without having had the opportunity of a fair trial.

SHUSTER: Ahmadinejad has made references to Iranians being held in American prisons before, but it is not clear who he has in mind. He had hinted Iran would consider a trade for Fattal and Bauer, but at least publicly the Obama administration never expressed any interest.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., reiterated that view this morning on CBS.

BLOCK: We view this as really about two human beings who have been held too long in very difficult circumstances. And we want to see them back reunited with their families.

SHUSTER: When the Iranians finally did release Bauer and Fattal, they were delivered into the hands of Switzerland's ambassador and officials from the Persian Gulf state of Oman. Because the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, U.S. business is carried out by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Oman got involved in this case a year ago when it paid for the release of Sarah Shourd and sent a plane to pick her up.

Diplomatic sources said the Sultan of Oman again agreed to pay for the release of the two men, $500,000 each. And several days ago, Oman sent a private plane to Tehran for them. Today, they were flown to Muscat, Oman's capital. From there, they are expected to make their way home to the U.S. to be reunited with their families.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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