The plight of Shane Bauer, a Minnesota native and freelance foreign correspondent, and his friend Josh Fattal, has captivated and outraged Americans. Apparently, the Iranian authorities responsible for jailing, and perhaps soon freeing the two Americans, are slightly less interested.
Bauer and Fattal were thought to be on their way out of Ervin, the Iranian prison where they'd been sentenced to eight years for "spying," or as we refer to it in America, "hiking." In order to be freed, the two 29-year-old college buddies would need the signature of two Iranian judges.
Now, their lawyer is saying that Bauer and Fattal will need to wait until one of those two judges comes back from vacation. This creates a sticky situation for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad, who promised the Americans' release, and is flying into New York today for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Washington Post reports.
Last week, Ahmadinejad had said that Bauer and Fattal would be pardoned in a "unilateral humanitarian gesture," trying to sell himself as some sort of Mandela-like forgiver of sins. As a refresher, the "crime," in this case, was that Bauer, Fattal, and Bauer's girlfriend Sara Shourd were found hiking on their way to Iraq's Kurdistan region, where Bauer had wanted to report and sell freelance stories.
Iran captured the Americans, claiming that they were spies, though the Americans claim they weren't even on Iranian soil.
Shourd was released to her family earlier this year on $500,000 bail. Bauer and Fattal will need to pay a similar "bail" -- or, in American language, "ransom" -- to avoid the eight-year sentence handed down in late August.
Ahmadinejad had said last week that release could come "in a couple of days," but the Iranian judiciary quickly rebuffed his offer, saying it was their decision. Bauer and Fattal's lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, still thinks the deal is in place, and could come as soon as tomorrow. But the reason for the delay, as Shaifei explains it to the Washington Post, is maddening.
"They told me to return to the court with my request in some days," he said. "They didn't say the release was canceled, just that the other judge was on vacation and would only be able to sign the papers from Tuesday."
Bauer and Fattal have already spent more than a year in custody, and by now will have done three weeks in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Why should this judge have to leave his time-share just to get them released?
The Post speculates that the complications arising from this release are politically damaging for Ahmadinejad, who -- on the eve of his trip to the U.N. in New York -- tried to present himself as the man in charge in Iran, only to get shut down by some judge who didn't want to cancel his reservations.