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Sarah to be released on bail

13th September 2010

Sarah Shourd was held in solitary confinement in Evin prison, in Iran, for 410 days until her release on bail on 14th September 2010, after a world-wide campaign.

Sarah's fiance Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal were released a year later, on 21st September 2011.

Iran's 'bail' looks more like a ransom demand

Martin Fletcher, UK Times

Hopes raised for US hiker's release, but Iran's 'bail' looks more like a ransom demand

The release of an American woman jailed in Iran for 13 months is back on the cards, although the regime is demanding what appears to be a ransom.

After the abrupt cancellation of Sarah Shourd's scheduled release on Saturday, Tehran's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, announced that she would be freed on bail of $540,000 because of her health problems. “If the bail is deposited, she can be released,” he said.

Ms Shourd, 31, has a pre-cancerous cervical condition and a lump on her breast, according to her mother, Nora.

After a rare meeting with Ms Shourd in Tehran's infamous Evin prison, her lawyer, Masoud Shafie, said he hoped that she could leave Iran in the next day or two, but it was unclear last night where the money would come from - or even whether it could be paid without breaching US sanctions against Iran.

“It looks more like a ransom than bail,” said Chris Crowstaff, founder of Safe World for Women, a UK-based group that has been campaigning for Ms Shourd's release. She pointed out that Ms Shourd had never been charged.

Her family and the families of two other Americans detained in Iran made no comment.

The White House said it was “hopeful” but counting on nothing after Saturday's release was derailed by what appeared to be an internal power struggle.

“Obviously we're hopeful and encouraged by this news but there have been starts and stops in this before and until that actually happens, you know, we're on a wait-and-see basis,” White House adviser David Axelrod told NBC.

Ms Shourd was one of three Americans seized by Iranian border guards in July last year while they hiked to a well-known beauty spot in mountainous northern Iraq. The regime accused her, her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27, and their friend, Josh Fattal, 27, of spying - a charge their families and the Obama administration have strongly denied. Ms Shourd has been held in solitary confinement in Evin ever since, while the two men share a cell.

There was no sign that the men would be released in the near future. Mr Dolatabadi stressed that the case against the three had not been dropped.

“The case is nearly complete and the judge has issued an indictment for the three Americans accused of spying,” he said. “It has been proven that they illegally entered through the Kurdistan border. Also the equipment and supplies they were carrying are only used for spying.”

After meeting the two men yesterday, Mr Shafie, the lawyer, said that their detention had been extended by two months despite his objections.

Ms Shourd's release was first announced on Thursday by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. It was described as an act of clemency and credited to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The release was cancelled after Mr Dolatabadi issued a statement late on Friday night saying the necessary legal procedures had not been completed. He later insisted that “releasing information on judicial cases should not be done by government officials”.

Analysts said the postponement appeared to be another manifestation of deepening rifts between Mr Ahmadinejad's hardline allies and traditional conservatives.

Ms Shourd's case pitted Mr Ahmadinejad against Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary and brother of Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Parliament, whose disdain for Mr Ahmadinejad is well documented.

By postponing her release Sadeq Larijani appeared to be asserting the judiciary's authority, and denying Mr Ahmadinejad a chance to soften his image before his address to the UN General Assembly next week. Iran is already the target of international outrage over Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

“By stopping the release of Sarah Shourd, the judiciary sent a strong message to the President that the buck stops with them,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert with the Middle East Economic and Political Analyst based in Israel.