Iran denies quick release of American hikers


A picture released by Iran's state-run Press TV shows US hikers Shane Bauer (L) and Josh Fattal (C), detained in Iran on spying charges, sitting next to an unidentified translator during the first session of their trial at the Tehran Revolutionary Court in the Iranian capital on February 6, 2011, more than 18 months after their arrest on the unmarked border with Iraq during a hiking trip.



Iran's Justice Ministry denied Wednesday that two American hikers accused of spying will be released within days.

A government official told Iran's English language Press TV that no decision has yet been made on the hikers' release, BBC reports.

"The two Americans are going to stay in prison for a bit longer. Reports of their imminent release are wrong,'' a judiciary official reportedly said.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had announced Tuesday that Iran would free the hikers on humanitarian grounds in "a couple of days."

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in 2009 after being found in Iran near the border with Iraq. The two men, both now 29, claimed they were hiking and got lost. However, Iran convicted them of illegal entry and spying and sentenced them to eight years in prison.

Sarah Shourd, also American, was arrested with the men but was released in September 2010 on $500,000 bail. She did not return to Iran to face trial but has campaigned for the men from the United States.

"While denying [the] release of two Americans accused of espionage, the public relations of the judiciary announces that the request of the lawyer to post bail and free them is being studied by the case's judge," according to a statement posted on the judiciary website on Wednesday.

"Any information in this regard will be issued by the judiciary and any release of information from other sources is not valid."

Two judges need to authorize the lawyer to post bail, the hikers' lawyer told AFP. He said he is waiting for authorization from the second judge.

The case represents a power struggle in Iran between the president and ruling clerics, CBS News reports.

"Ahmadinejad is embroiled in a power struggle with the ruling clerics who have the ultimate say on all matters in Iran, and the American hikers have become pawns in that fight - adding intense loops to the emotional roller coaster their families have been riding since their arrest in 2009," it states.

"The Justice Ministry is headed by a powerful cleric from Iran's ruling elite, but even his decisions must fall in line with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei's word is final in the Islamic Republic."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she was hopeful Iran would free the hikers.

The State Department says it has not received any official confirmation that the men are to be released and is dealing with the matter through Switzerland, which represents the U.S. in Iran.

Clinton said the Obama administration hopes to see a "positive outcome", Voice of America reports.