Middle East

Iran 'delays release of US hiker Sarah Shourd'

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal (file images)
Image caption Sarah Shourd (C) has been detained since last July

Iran has delayed the release of a US hiker held for more than a year on suspicion of spying, officials say.

Tehran's prosecutor general said Sarah Shourd, one of three detained Americans, would not be freed because legal procedures were not complete.

Officials had previously said the 31-year-old would be freed on Saturday.

Ms Shourd and two other hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were arrested in July 2009 after they crossed the Iran-Iraq border.

Iran initially said the three would be put on trial for espionage - an offence that can be punishable by death.

The US says they have committed no crime, and has appealed for their immediate release.

In a text message on Thursday, the Iranian Culture Ministry invited journalists to a hotel in Tehran to witness the release of the American woman.

She is believed to be suffering from potentially serious health problems, and the authorities had said she would be freed as a goodwill gesture for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

But Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said her release had been cancelled.

"The published reports have not been confirmed by the judiciary," he told semi-official news agency Ilna.

"Clearly any decision regarding the mentioned accused will be made after the completion of the legal procedure."

A presidential official later confirmed the delay to the official Irna news agency.

Neither man gave a date for her eventual release, and neither mentioned the other two detainees.

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Jon Leyne says it sounds ominously as if her case has fallen victim to the increasingly bitter power struggle between elites in Iran.

But he says Ms Shourd's family will be hoping that a decision that can be reversed once can be reversed again.

More on this story