U.S. hikers’ release underway in Iran

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Two American hikers held for over two years in Iran were in the process of being released on Wednesday, Iran's state media reported.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were handed over to an Omani official, CNN reported. Swiss and Omani diplomatic vehicles had been waiting for them outside Tehran's Evin prison Wednesday as their release paperwork was being processed, the BBC reported. See the Associated Press video below reportedly showing the Swiss ambassador's convoy driving Bauer and Fattal from the prison grounds.

The Iranian Judiciary "has confirmed the release of two U.S. nationals, who had been convicted of illegal entry and espionage in Iran, on bail," Iranian State TV reported, according to USA Today.

Earlier Wednesday, the two men's Iranian defense lawyer said the paperwork for their release was being processed but he had not yet seen them. "Maybe five minutes, maybe three hours. I have done my job," Masoud Shafiee told journalists Wednesday, Reuters reported. (See the AP video report on their lawyer's comments below the jump).

"There is no obstacle to their freedom now. It's only a matter of time before they are out of jail."

The Omani Emir had earlier sent a plane to Tehran and the men are expected to possibly fly to Oman before returning to the United States.

Fattal and Bauer (pictured at a pre-trial hearing, top right) were detained by Iranian authorities in July 2009 along with their friend Sarah Shourd while the three University of California, Berkeley, graduates were hiking in Kurdish northern Iraq. Shourd, who had been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, was freed last September on humanitarian grounds because of health problems. But after many unexplained procedural delays, Fattal and Bauer were convicted last month in an Iranian court on charges of espionage. Each man was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Their families and American officials insist that Fattal and Bauer are innocent, and have repeatedly implored Iran to free the two men on humanitarian grounds.

Their return comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in New York to attend events surrounding the opening session of the UN General Assembly this week.