TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian authorities on Tuesday released American hiker Sarah Shourd after more than a year of imprisonment and the posting of a $500,000 bond, leaving her American fiance and a friend still in custody.
Shourd’s sudden departure on a private plane to the Persian Gulf nation of Oman was the latest wrinkle in the saga of the three Americans who were arrested last year hiking in mountains along the border between Iran and Iraq. The arrests have complicated U.S. diplomacy in the region as the Obama administration has sought to pressure Iran to end its alleged nuclear weapons program.
Iran said Tuesday that it had no plans to release the two men anytime soon.
Speaking at an airport in Tehran before she left, Shourd, 32, thanked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “for this humanitarian gesture.”
Shourd’s mother, Nora, who was reunited with her daughter in Oman, had said that Shourd was being denied medical treatment for a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.
President Barack Obama said he was “very pleased” that Shourd was released but added that her two companions – Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 28 – remain imprisoned although they have “committed no crime.” Shourd and Bauer became engaged in May while in custody. All three have been charged with espionage, which they have denied.
Shourd’s case became entangled in Iranian political infighting in recent weeks, with the government and the judiciary disagreeing over whether she should be allowed out of jail. A government-organized ceremony to announce her release had been scheduled for Saturday. But it was postponed after judicial authorities objected, saying her case had not been finalized.
On Tuesday, the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Courts Web site reported that Shourd, held in Iran since July 2009, was freed from prison “at the order of the case inspector and with the agreement of the Tehran Prosecutor.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi told Iran’s English-language Press TV on Tuesday that the bail was paid at a branch of the government-owned Bank Melli Iran in Muscat, the capital of the sultanate of Oman. Unspecified “representatives” of Shourd paid the money, he said.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Bank Melli since 2007 and the European Union has done so since 2008 for the bank’s alleged involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said “we’re not aware of any information that would trigger sanctions in any way,” regarding the payment of the $500,000 bail.
Shourd’s bail payment marked the third time in the past year that foreigners have paid Iranian authorities to secure their release. In October, Maziar Bahari, who worked for Newsweek, was released after posting $300,000 in bail. In May, Clotilde Reiss, a French scholar, was let go after she was convicted of espionage and paid a $300,000 fine.
“The United States did not pay anything for her release,” Crowley told reporters of Shourd.