TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two Americans jailed in Iran as spies were released from Tehran's prison on Wednesday after more than two years in custody.
Associated Press reporters saw a convoy of vehicles with Swiss and Omani diplomats leaving Evin prison Wednesday afternoon with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal inside, heading to an airport in the capital Tehran. Switzerland represents American interests in Iran because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and the prisoners are expected to be flown to Oman now.
The two men, both 29, were driven out of the prison compound just minutes after their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has completed the paperwork for their release.
“I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer,” Shafiei said. He obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal. A $1 million bail – $500,000 for each one – was posted.
The two men were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 and sentenced last month to eight years each in prison. A third American arrested with them, Sarah Shourd, was freed last year on bail.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International called the release of the Americans a “long overdue step.”
“Iranian authorities have finally seen sense” and have agreed to release Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa. “They must now be allowed to leave Iran promptly to be reunited with their families.”
The three Americans – friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley – have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them.
Their families and the U.S. government said they were just hiking in northern Iraq's scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region when they may have accidentally strayed over the unmarked border with Iran.
The last direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010 when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran.
It was not clear where the two men will be reunited with their families after their release.
Phone messages left for Fattal's mother and brother in Philadelphia were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from suburban Philadelphia.
Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while in prison.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)