Iran Cancels Planned Release Of American Hiker

TEHRAN — Iran has cancelled the planned release on Saturday of female US hiker Sarah Shourd due to unresolved legal issues, Tehran's public prosecutor was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.

TEHRAN — Iran has cancelled the planned release on Saturday of female US hiker Sarah Shourd due to unresolved legal issues, Tehran's public prosecutor was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.

"Because the judicial process has not been fulfilled in the mentioned American defendant's case, (her) release has been ruled out," said the prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.

Commenting on reports about Shourd's expected release on Saturday, he said: "The judiciary does not validate the published news and naturally any decision about the defendants will depend on carrying out the judicial process."

Several Iranian officials have been talking of the release of Shourd, one of the three US hikers currently held in Iran for more than a year, with some clearly indicating it to take place on Saturday.

Shourd, 31, was arrested along with fellow Americans Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 after straying across the border from neighbouring Iraq. The three have been accused of spying and entering Iran illegally.

Media reports of her expected release began circulating when a text message was sent late Thursday by Iran's ministry of culture and Islamic guidance to news networks inviting them to report on the event.

Without naming her, the text message said an "American detainee" was to be released at Tehran's Hotel Esteghlal at 9:00 am (0430 GMT) Saturday.

On Friday, Ehsan Qazizadeh Hashemi, local media chief at the culture ministry, had told state news agency IRNA that the detainee would be freed at Tehran's Esteghlal Hotel.

Later on Friday an official from the same ministry confirmed her Saturday release, but said the event would take place in the Hafezia hall of north Tehran's Sadabad palace in presence of a vice president.

But foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, although confirming the planned release of Shourd to English-language Press TV on Friday, did not specify the date and timing as to when it would actually take place.

He said Shourd would be "released soon to rejoin with her family", adding that "discussions are still ongoing regarding the details and the date of her release".

Mehmanparast said her release was an act of "Islamic compassion" and the decision to free her was taken after discussions that involved even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Her release on Saturday would have coincided with the end of Ramadan and the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Shourd's mother Nora told AFP last month that she 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, who are all around 30 years old, had voiced hope that news of one of them being released signaled an 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.

Soon after Thursday's report of Shourd's expected release, the White House said it was checking the veracity of the reports 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.

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 US 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.

Releasing the hikers would to some extent ease the tension between Washington and Tehran, which has grown in 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.

Iran, meanwhile, continues to hold Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, who was arrested in the unrest that followed 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.

Source: AFP