Iran to free female US hiker `soon`

Iran says Sarah Shourd will be "released soon to rejoin with her family”.

Updated: Sep 10, 2010, 15:45 PM IST

Tehran: Iran will soon free a female US hiker detained in the Islamic republic for more than a year for alleged spying, officials said, with some indicating that she would be released on Saturday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told English-language Press TV on Friday that Sarah Shourd, one of the three US hikers currently held in Iran, will be "released soon to rejoin with her family”.

"Discussions are still ongoing regarding the details and the date of her release," he said, adding that her release was an act of "Islamic compassion" and was taken after discussions that involved even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

An official with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, without naming the detainee, said the release would occur on Saturday in Tehran`s Hotel Esteghlal.

"In a ceremony at 9:00 am (0430 GMT) on Saturday at Tehran`s Hotel Esteghlal, one of the three Americans who were arrested for entering Iranian soil illegally, will be released," Ehsan Qazizadeh Hashemi, local media chief at the ministry told state news agency IRNA.

On Thursday, the ministry had also informed a news agency through a text message about the same date and timing of the release of an American detainee.

A release on Saturday would coincide with the end of Ramadan and the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

It also comes with Tehran under mounting international pressure over the case of Iranian Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

Shourd, 31, was arrested along with fellow Americans Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27 on July 31, 2009 after straying across the border from neighbouring Iraq.

Her mother Nora had said last month that Sarah was being held in solitary confinement despite suffering from a pre-cancerous cervical condition, a lump in her breast and depression.

The mothers of the trio, whom Iran accuses of spying and entering the country illegally, have voiced hope that news that one of them would be released signalled the end to their battle for freedom.

"We have seen the news reports and are urgently seeking further information," mothers Cindy Hickey, Nora Shourd and Laura Fattal said in a joint statement.

The White House said it was checking the veracity of reports on the planned release with the Swiss government, which has represented US interests in Iran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"These are three innocent children, innocent kids who committed no crime, all three of whom should be released and released immediately by the Iranian government," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Thursday.

The three insist they entered Iran by mistake after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Nobel Prize winners and international rights groups have repeatedly urged Iran to release them.

Last month, Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said an investigation on the American detainees was nearing completion.

In May, Iran had allowed the mothers to visit, and they later reported that Shourd and Bauer had become engaged behind bars.

The release of the trio could ease the tension between Washington and Tehran to some extent, grown over the past few months over Iran`s controversial nuclear programme.

Western powers, led by the United States, suspect Iran is masking a weapons drive under the guise of what Tehran says is a civilian atomic programme.

International rights group Amnesty International also urged the trio`s release in May, saying it appeared that the Iranian authorities did not have substantial grounds to prosecute them.

Iran, meanwhile, continues to hold Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, who was arrested in the unrest after the disputed June 2009 Presidential Election.

Another American, Robert Levinson, a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, went missing more than three years ago from Iran`s Kish island. Iran maintains it has no information about him.

Bureau Report