If all goes well, two American hikers imprisoned by the Iranian regime for over two years could be released within the next few days. After 26 months behind bars, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer (a Mother Jones contributor) should be released within the next two days, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News on Tuesday. Ahmadinejad announced that the prisoners will be granted a "unilateral pardon" as a "humanitarian gesture," according to the Washington Post.
Bauer, Fattal, and a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, were arrested in July 2009 while hiking along the border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Theories on how exactly the arrest took place vary. The three Americans could have crossed the border into Iran by accident, but some claim they were abducted by Iranian forces while in northern Iraq. Shourd, who accepted Bauer's marriage proposal while the two were imprisoned, was released in September 2010 after family and supporters forked over $500,000 in bail money. But Fattal and Bauer have remained in detention, and last month, the two men were sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. (Prosecutors did not present any credible evidence that the hikers were American spies or government operatives.)
Even with the announcement of the hikers' imminent release, there is still plenty of room for skepticism. Nearly every action taken by an Iranian president has to be approved by the Islamic Republic's theocratic leadership, who are not known for their love of the United States. (In fact, Bauer and Fattal's espionage convictions came after a previous "humanitarian gesture" was shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Court.) When asked by the Washington Post whether Fattal and Bauer would definitely be freed this week, Ahmadinejad responded with a vague "I hope so. I hope I will do that." Furthermore, the timing seems like it's based on political public relations calculation, since Ahmadinejad is about to embark on his annual "media blitz" before his visit to New York and the UN General Assembly.
The price of the hikers' release has been set at $500,000 each—the same amount of bail money that was paid for Shourd last September. Follow the developing story on Twitter via the hashtag #ssj.