UPDATE 2-Iran Orders Release of U.S. Men Jailed as Spies

Tuesday, 13 Sep 2011 07:04 AM

(Changes dateline, adds analyst, detail)

TEHRAN, Sept 13 - An Iranian court has ordered the release on bail of two American nationals convicted of espionage, their lawyer said on Tuesday, adding they would be allowed to leave the Islamic state right after their release.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in July 2009 near Iran's border with Iraq, where they say they were hiking in the mountains.

A third American, Sarah Shourd, was freed on $500,000 bail in Sept. 2010 and returned home. Bauer and Fattal were convicted last month and share a cell in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

"The appeals court has agreed for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on $500,000 bail for each of them ... They can leave Iran right after their release," Masoud Shafie told Reuters.

"I just left the court a few minutes ago and informed the Swiss embassy about the recent development."

The Swiss embassy in Tehran looks after the interests of the United States, which broke off diplomatic ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic revolution.

The U.S. network NBC, which interviewed Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, said in a Twitter message earlier that Ahmadinejad had told it that Bauer and Fattal would be released in two days.

The interview was due to air later on Tuesday on NBC's Today show.

The announcement, ahead of Ahmadinejad's trip to New York to participate at the U.N. General Assembly meeting on Sept. 22., was seen by analysts as a move to ease the mounting diplomatic pressure on Iran.

"Ahmadinejad secured the release to gain popularity in America and also to evade political pressure," said analyst Reza Fakuri.

The affair has heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which are also at odds over Iran's disputed nuclear work.

U.S President Barack Obama has denied that the Americans, who were working in the Middle East when they decided to hike in the scenic mountains of Iraq, had any link to U.S. intelligence.

Bauer, Fattal and Shourd say they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq and, if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.

Their supporters say evidence against them has never been made public, and that the sentence came as a shock after hopes for their release had been boosted by positive comments from Iran's foreign minister. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jon Boyle)

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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