Efforts to free two American hikers convicted of spying in Iran hit a snag this weekend, as the judge overseeing their case was reported to be on leave. The complication came just as it appeared that the release of the two hikers, who along with a third friend say they innocently wandered across the border from Kurdistan, was imminent.

An Iranian lawyer for Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer told AFP, the news service, that he went to court to petition for their release, but was told that the judge would be on leave until Tuesday.

Iranian officials have suggested that the Americans would be freed soon, and U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have publicly expressed their optimism in recent days.

Among those hinting at the release of the hikers is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, AFP reported. But much will still depend on the wishes of the courts.

 

But the judiciary, dominated by ultra-conservatives, said a day later that no decision had yet been taken and that it was studying a request by the lawyer to post bail.

"Many heads of state mediated for their release and we have forwarded their messages to the relevant bodies and we hope that the judiciary will treat them with Islamic compassion," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by the Iranian media on Sunday.

On Friday Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP in Baghdad that his nation's leaders, including the president and prime minister, have repeatedly called on Iran to release free the hikers.

Iranian media reported on Sunday that top members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in addition to two Christian pastors, are in Tehran pleading the hikers' release in meetings with Ahmadinejad.

The hikers have been imprisoned in Iran since their capture in July 2009.