Iran says US captives can be freed

President Ahmadinejad says the two US detainees in Iran can be released but it is up to the court to decide.

    The Iranian president says he has no influence in when "hiker" Shane Bauer will be released [EPA]

    Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has said that there was a chance that two American citizens still held in Iran could be freed, but cautioned it was in the hands of the judge.

    The Iranian leader told CNN on Wednesday that Sarah Shourd had been released "because of mercy, compassion, and as a humanitarian gesture."

    "As for the others, yes there is a chance. But the judge has to take care of the case," Ahmadinejad said, adding that he had no sway over the legal process.

    Shourd, 32, was released on September 14 but her fiance Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal remain jailed in Tehran after they were detained on July 31, 2009.

    The Americans said they had strayed by accident into Iran in July 2009 while hiking in the mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian authorities have alleged that they were spying.

    The Iranian leader is in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, and on Sunday he called on the United States to release eight Iranians as a "humanitarian gesture."

    Mark Toner, the US State Department spokesman, rejected any link on Monday.

    "We would just say that there is no equivalent between these individuals who have been either charged or tried and afforded due process in a court and these hikers who crossed an unmarked border and have yet to be charged," Toner told reporters on Monday.

    Activist sentenced

    Meanwhile, an Iranian newspaper says a court has sentenced a prominent human rights activist and journalist to six years in prison on security charges.

    The pro-reform Sharq daily said on Wednesday that Emadeddin Baghi was convicted of "spreading propaganda" against the ruling establishment as well as planning to "violate national security."

    The 48-year-old Baghi has been on trial or in jail almost continually since 2000 over similar charges. The latest case against him began after he was detained in late December when Iran's government arrested hundreds of opposition activists after an anti-government protest.

    In 2007, his family told Human Rights Watch that Baghi had been summoned by the authorities 23 times.  He had already served a two-year sentence starting in 2000 on charges of "endangering national security" after he wrote about the murder of several Iranian dissidents.

    Baghi is an active campaigner for prisoners' rights and opposes the death penalty. Iranian authorities have accused him of using activism as a guise to cover anti-government activities.

    Another activist and journalist, Shiva Nazar Ahari, was sentenced to six years in prisonon similar charges on September 18.

    SOURCE: Agencies and Al Jazeera


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