Iran has reportedly canceled or delayed the planned release of a detained American woman because officials in Iran say the legal process has not been completed.
Iran's ILNA news agency quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi as saying that "because the legal procedure on her case is not finished, her release is canceled."
Subsequent reports suggested the announcement represented a delay, not a cancellation.
Previously, Iranian officials said the Islamic Republic will "soon" release Sarah Shourd, one of three U.S. hikers who have been detained by Iran for more than a year.
"With regard to Islamic compassion and the auspicious occasion of Eid al-Fitr, it was decided to release the lady soon so that she can rejoin her family," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
Shourd has reportedly been suffering health problems during her confinement at Tehran's Evin prison.
Shourd, along with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were detained by Iranian authorities on July 31, 2009, near the Iran-Iraq border. The three U.S. citizens say they accidentally strayed onto Iranian soil during a hiking trip in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran accuses them of illegally entering the country and of espionage.
Their case has further complicated relations between Tehran and Washington, already deadlocked over Iran's controversial nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Accused Of Espionage
The hikers have not been formally charged, but Tehran previously announced plans to put them on trial. Under the country's Islamic law, the charge of espionage can be punishable by death.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Haidar Moslehi has said the government had proof that the three Americans had links to intelligence services. Last month he said the investigation into spying allegations was nearing completion.
In February, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that the three U.S. citizens might be swapped for the release of Iranians jailed in the United States.
The news of the possible release came after repeated calls by State Department officials to release the hikers on humanitarian grounds.
At a July 13 press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Iran continues to hold three young Americans against their will. And we reiterate our request that they be released and allowed to return to their families on a humanitarian basis."
On July 31, the first anniversary of the hikers' detention, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a written statement saying that the three had never worked for the U.S. government, had committed "absolutely no crime," and had never had a quarrel with the Iranian government.
He described the hikers, who are aged between 27 and 31, as "simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America, and of the human spirit."
The release was expected to take place at the Estaghlal Hotel near Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where the three hikers are being held. In a highly publicized May trip, the hikers' mothers were allowed to visit their children at the same hotel.
The mothers released a statement to the media on September 9 that said they "hope and pray that the reports are true and that this signals the end of all three of our children's long and difficult detention."
with agency material and reporting by Radio Farda's Hossein Ghavimi