WORLD -- September 13, 2011 at 8:45 AM EDT
Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Pardon, Release U.S. Hikers
A picture obtained from Iranian state television showed Americans Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal in Tehran in May 2010. Shourd was released on bail in September 2010. Photo via Getty Images.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post that he will grant two American hikers held for two years on charges of espionage a "unilateral pardon" as a "humanitarian gesture."
The court system is technically controlled by the country's clerics, not Ahmadinejad, but he told both the Post and the "Today" show that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be released imminently.
"Are they really the problems? You know how many Iranians are now in the American jails? They are human beings," Ahmadinejad told NBC's Ann Curry. "It's not about only two people in Iran. These two people are in very good conditions here in prison. It's like staying in a hotel. I think the problem is in the approach of the American politicians and leaders. Why [are] the American leaders are so hostile against us?....Is it going to solve the problems? I hope so."
Bauer, Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who was released on bail last year, were taken into custody two years ago while hiking near the Iraq-Iran border. Iran accused the three of spying. They have denied the charges, insisting that they may have accidentally crossed the border while hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdish region.
The announcement comes after they were sentenced to eight years in jail last month.
Bauer and Fattal will each be required to pay a $500,000 bail, which will be paid through intermediaries because of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. Their lawyer, Masoud Shafi, said the court will now begin the bail process, meaning it could take at least several more days for them to be set free.