Iran’s judiciary said on Wednesday that no decision has been taken on releasing two US hikers convicted of spying, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the duo would be released soon.
“While denying ... 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,” a statement posted on the judiciary website said.
“Any information in this regard will be issued by the judiciary and any release of information from other sources is not valid,” it added.
Ahmadinejad told The Washington Post on Tuesday that Tehran would soon release Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, convicted of spying but who claimed to have accidentally strayed into the country, “in a couple of days so they will be able to return home.”
“The two Americans are going to stay in prison for a bit longer. Reports of their imminent release are wrong, “Iran’s English-language Press TV quoted a judiciary official as saying.
In a separate interview with U.S. network NBC News, Ahmadinejad said the duo –whose jailing has further strained already difficult relations between Washington and Tehran – would be released “in two days.”
However, their lawyer Masoud Shafii told AFP on Wednesday that he was waiting for a judge authorizing the posting of bail for the two hikers.
“Nothing has changed since I was informed by the court (on Tuesday) of their decision to change the detention to posting bail of the 5$00,000,” Shafii said.
“There are two judges who have to sign the decision for me to start the process of actually posting bail. I am waiting for one the judges who has still not signed ... if he does not sign the decision by the end the working day, 3:00 pm (1130 GMT) it will postponed to Saturday,” the lawyer said.
“I have already informed the families and the Swiss embassy,” he added. The Swiss embassy deals with U.S.-related affairs as Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Ahmadinejad’s comments drew an optimistic response from the families of the hikers, who were each sentenced to eight years in jail last month on charges of espionage and illegal entry.
“While we do not have further details at this time, we are overjoyed by the positive news reports from Iran,” said a statement issued by the families.
“Shane and Josh’s freedom means more to us than anything and it’s a huge relief to read that they are going to be released,” the statement said.
“We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us and looking forward to our reunion with Shane and Josh. We hope to say more when they are finally back in our arms.”
A guarded U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We have followed this very closely and we are encouraged by what the Iranian government has said today.”
She added: “We obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government.”
The pair were arrested in July 2009 near Iran’s border with Iraq, where they say they were hiking in the mountains as tourists, along with a third American, Sarah Shourd.
Bauer and Fattal were convicted last month and share a cell in Tehran’s Evin prison. Shourd was allowed to go home after being freed on $500,000 bail in September 2010, paid through Oman, a U.S. Gulf ally that maintains relations with Iran.