An American-Iranian academic, whose imprisonment in Tehran's notorious Evin jail along with a colleague raised tensions with the Bush administration, has been abruptly freed.
Haleh Esfandiari, from the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson centre, was released yesterday after payment of 3bn rials in bail. She and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant for George Soros's Open Society Institute, were arrested in May on spying charges. They went on television last month to "confess" they were plotting a velvet revolution to topple Iran's clerical regime.
But US officials accused Iranian authorities of coercing the prisoners into making confessions as part of a campaign aimed at deterring Iranians from having contact with foreigners.
Lee Hamilton, head of the Woodrow Wilson centre, welcomed the release of 67-year old Ms Esfandiari, the thinktank's Middle East director.
"This has been a long, trying ordeal for her and her family," he said. "Her physical and mental well-being are now the priority."
However there was no word on the fate of Mr Tajbakhsh, although an Iranian news agency said that he might be freed on bail in the coming days.
A resolution in the academics' case had been anticipated since 12 August, when the Iranian deputy prosecutor announced that the investigation had been completed.
A third American-Iranian is also being held while a fourth, a journalist, is already out on bail. Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and considers the detainees to be Iranian.
The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 hostage taking at the US embassy in Tehran. Tensions have been running high over Iran's refusal to bow to UN demands on its nuclear programme, and the US detention of Iranian agents in northern Iraq.