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September 13, 2011

Iran Says No Decision on Releasing US Hikers

Iran's judiciary says no decision has been made about releasing two American hikers convicted of spying in Iran, after reports that the men could be freed soon.

In a statement Wednesday, the judiciary said a court is still considering a request from lawyers representing Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal to free the pair on bail.  It also said the judiciary will be the one to release any information about the case.

The announcement comes a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a correspondent for the American television network NBC that he thought the hikers would be freed on humanitarian grounds within "a couple of days."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she was encouraged by Ahmadinejad's comments, and that the Obama administration hopes to see a "positive outcome."

The State Department says it has yet to receive any confirmation that a release is near.  It says it is working on the case with Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

The families of the two hikers said they were "overjoyed" about reports that the men may soon be released, calling the news a "huge relief."  

Bauer and Fatal were sentenced last month to eight-year prison terms for the spying charges.

Iran freed a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, a year ago after she posted a $500,000 bond. She returned to the United States.  The lawyer for Bauer and Fattal said Tuesday bail for the two men had also been set at $500,000.

Iranian authorities arrested the three American hikers in the Iran-Iraq border area in mid-2009. The trio has insisted that if they strayed over the border into Iran, it was inadvertent.

Supporters of the hikers denounced their sentences, saying Iranian prosecutors had presented no credible evidence against them.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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