Iran frees U.S.-Iranian academic on bail

TEHRAN Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:17pm EDT

U.S.-Iranian academic Haleh Esfandiari speaks to an Iranian reporter after she was released on bail in Tehran in this image taken from video footage released on August 21, 2007. REUTERS/IRINN TV via Reuters TV

U.S.-Iranian academic Haleh Esfandiari speaks to an Iranian reporter after she was released on bail in Tehran in this image taken from video footage released on August 21, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/IRINN TV via Reuters TV

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday released a U.S.-Iranian academic, who had been detained on security-related charges since May, after paying 3 billion rials ($320,000) bail.

"I thank all the people who made an effort ... so that I can go home now," Haleh Esfandiari told a reporter from Iranian state television as she stood outside the gates of Evin prison in Tehran where she had been held.

The footage showed her walking towards a small group of people standing outside the jail. Her lawyer, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, had said her family had gone to the prison to pick her up and that she was now at home.

Iran has accused Esfandiari of involvement in what it says is a U.S.-led plot to topple its clerical establishment in a "soft revolution." Washington has dismissed the allegation.

"I'm happy that the judiciary and the Islamic revolutionary court finally accepted the law and released my client on bail," Ebadi told Reuters. Esfandiari's family had paid the bail.

Esfandiari was detained in early May while on a visit to Tehran to see her elderly mother.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said that Esfandiari and three other Iranian Americans who have been detained or otherwise prevented from leaving Iran "have done nothing wrong ... and should be free right now."

On August 12, Iran's judicial authorities said they had completed their investigations into Esfandiari and another detained Iranian-American, Kian Tajbakhsh. A third U.S-Iranian is also being held while a fourth is already out on bail.

Ebadi said Esfandiari was now legally allowed to leave the country. Parnaz Azima, the dual national earlier freed on bail, has been unable to leave because the authorities kept her passport, rights groups say.

"CONFESSIONS"

Last month, Iranian television aired "confessions" by Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, which the Foreign Ministry said had revealed a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran's clerical rulers.

The United States denounced the broadcast as illegitimate and coerced, and urged Tehran to release the detainees.

Esfandiari, wearing a headscarf and long coat covering her body as required by Iran's strict Islamic dress codes, praised the prison staff and her treatment, even during interrogation.

"The gentlemen that I had contact with regarding interrogation were extraordinary, polite and respectful," she said, adding that they had asked her during questioning if she was tired. "If I was tired they would immediately leave."

She occasionally smiled as she spoke to the TV reporter and then at the end said: "I am very happy. And if you let me leave sooner, I will be more happy."

Esfandiari works at the U.S. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Tajbakhsh is a consultant with the Soros Institute, founded by billionaire investor George Soros.

Iran's ISNA news agency suggested Tajbakhsh might also be freed on bail in coming days, but did not give details.

Iran and the United States, which have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, are also embroiled in a standoff over Tehran's nuclear program. The West suspects it is aimed at making bombs, a charge Iran denies.

Iran and the U.N. nuclear agency watchdog IAEA are holding a second day of talks in Tehran aimed at defusing the dispute.

May's detentions coincided with what rights groups and diplomats said was a fresh crackdown on dissent.

Iran dismisses accusations it is violating human rights and insists the cases are a legal matter concerning state security.

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