TEHRAN (AFP) – American hiker Sarah Shourd, held in Iran for more than a year on suspicion of spying, has been released on bail, the Tehran prosecution announced on its website on Tuesday.
“Sarah Shourd has been handed over to the officials of the Swiss embassy in Iran which represents US interests after she was freed from jail,” the website said.
“The case inspector informed the Tehran prosecutor about a bank guarantee concerning the posting of bail and after the prosecutor’s agreement, he issued the order for her freedom.”
Shourd’s lawyer Masoud Shafii too confirmed her release.
“My client has just been freed from Evin prison,” he told AFP. Iran’s ISNA news agency further quoted him saying that “there is nothing to prevent my client from leaving the country.”
The Swiss embassy in Tehran said that it did not have confirmation of the release, but a diplomat there added that “the release will take place very soon,” and that Shourd would be leaving Iran later Tuesday.
The Swiss embassy manages US interests in Iran as Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had said on Sunday that Shourd would be released on bail of around 500,000 dollars.
Shourd was arrested along with fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 after straying into Iran from Iraq.
Her release could ease the tension between arch-foes Iran and the United States to some extent which has heightened in recent months over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Iranian authorities have accused the three hikers with “spying and illegally entering the country,” charges which the trio have denied, insisting that they mistakenly entered Iran after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Several Iranian officials had claimed that Shourd was to be released on Saturday, but Dolatabadi had ruled it out citing pending legal issues.
Her release finally came after several hiccups which saw the judiciary accusing the government of pushing for her release, while some conservative lawmakers criticising Ahmadinejad directly for freeing her at a time when tension between Tehran and Washington is at its peak.
The animosity between Washington and Tehran rose after the United States proposed new sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council which were imposed on June 9.
Washington has also been lobbying hard with its allies to punish Iran with separate unilateral sanctions for defiantly pursuing its controversial nuclear programme.
Western powers led by Washington accuse Tehran of masking a weapons drive under the guise of what Iran says is a purely civilian nuclear programme.
Shourd’s mother Nora told AFP last month her 32-year-old daughter was held in solitary confinement despite suffering from a pre-cancerous cervical condition, a lump in her breast and depression.
In May, Iran allowed visits to the trio by their mothers, who reported Shourd and Bauer, 28, had become engaged while behind bars.
Last month, Shourd’s mother said Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, appealed to Tehran to end the solitary confinement of her daughter.
Washington, including President Barack Obama, and human rights watchdogs had repeatedly called for the release of the three Americans.