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Iran to free U.S. hikers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 00:38

Sept 21 - Iran is expected to free two American men convicted of espionage on Wednesday, their lawyer said. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION Iran is expected on Wednesday to release two American men convicted of espionage, their lawyer told Reuters. "The natural path has taken its course. As I had mentioned before, I was waiting for a signature. This has now happened. There was a small problem with the bail. I requested from them to deal with this problem. I asked them to go to the Central Bank to resolve the issue. I hope that this will be resolved today," Masoud Shafie said. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in mid-2009 along Iran's border with Iraq where they said they were hiking. They were found guilty of illegal entry and espionage and were sentenced last month to eight years in prison. The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Shafie as saying that the pair would be handed to the Swiss embassy in the capital at 1500 local time (1030GMT) The Swiss diplomatic mission has represented U.S. interests in Iran since Washington cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran shortly after its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ahead of his annual trip to the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told U.S. media last week that Bauer and Fattal would be freed "in a couple of days" as a humanitarian gesture. But the Iranian judiciary, controlled by conservative hardliners at odds with Ahmadinejad, immediately rejected a swift release on bail, saying the matter was under review. Shafie said last week the men would be freed on 500,000 US dollar bail each. A third American, Sarah Shourd, was arrested with the men but allowed to go home on 500,000 US dollar bail in September 2010. Analysts said Ahmadinejad's announcement was an attempt to improve his international standing ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting that starts on Wednesday. The U.S. government denies that the three Americans were spies and their supporters complain that no evidence against them has been made public. Their trial was held behind closed doors.

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Iran to free U.S. hikers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 00:38