The families of two Americans imprisoned in Iran for nearly two years say they're counting on a court hearing Sunday to end their ordeal at last.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, are due for what Iranian authorities have said will be a final hearing in their protracted espionage case. It's scheduled two years to the day after they were arrested along with another American, Sarah Shourd, during a hike on the Iraq-Iran border. Shourd was released last September.
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., said she'll be up all night praying.
"As a mother I'm always holding out hope, but it's been two years. ... It's time for this to be heard in court and for a release to be made," Hickey said, adding that she's heard "some really positive comments coming out of Tehran" that give her hope.
Hickey was referring to remarks by Tehran's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, who told Iran's official news agency in June that officials "are hopeful that the final decision about the three Americans' case will be taken" at Sunday's hearing. He did not hint at what the decision might be. But the families, who have long maintained the hikers' innocence, took his comments as a good sign that their ordeal will soon be over.
"They themselves said that it will be the final decision, at that point, and the final hearing. So I have every belief that they will live (up) to this, and I am more than eager to see Josh and Shane come home," said Josh's mother, Laura Fattal, of Elkins Park, Pa. She also said she sees the hearing date _ the second anniversary of their arrest _ as a good sign.
Shourd, now 32, and Bauer got engaged in prison before she was released on what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said were humanitarian grounds following health issues. She said she's also managing to be optimistic.
"Optimism is what gets me through every day and what gets Shane and Josh through every day in prison," Shourd said. "We have been told that a final decision will be made. And our lawyer, Masoud Shaffii, is a brave, courageous man, and he's read their file. He said there is absolutely no evidence against them and he's feeling very upbeat and he's very much looking forward to this final session. And we're all very hopeful that this will be the end of our nightmare."
But the families have been deeply disappointed before. The mothers both said one of their lowest points came May 11, when their sons' espionage trial was scheduled to resume but was canceled at the last minute without explanation.
"We were very, very upset about that," Laura Fattal said.
One of their highest points was Shourd's release on $500,000 bail last September. She refused to return to Iran for trial when she was summoned in February.
The families have been working to make sure Iranian authorities know the rest of the world is watching. They've elicited statements of support from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and well-known Muslims such as former boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens.
Shourd, Laura Fattal and Josh's brother, Alex Fattal, planned a rally in New York on Friday outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations.
"The world is ready to celebrate Josh and Shane's freedom," Alex Fattal said. "Our mobilization Friday is called `Two Years Too Long' because they never should have been picked up in the first place. ... Their ongoing detention accomplishes nothing, just breaking our hearts and the hearts of people all over the world."
Shourd, Bauer and Fattal _ friends from their student days at the University of California-Berkeley _ were vacationing in Iraqi Kurdistan when they went hiking near a scenic waterfall. Shourd told the New York Times last November that they stepped off an unmarked dirt road, inadvertently crossing from Iraq into Iran only because a border guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach. She said they had no idea they were so close to the border. They all deny any espionage.
Shourd is back living in Oakland, Calif. Bauer grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal is from suburban Philadelphia.
"As soon as Shane gets out we're getting married," Shourd said. "We're not going to wait any longer than we have to. I'm sure Shane is ready, I'm sure Josh is ready to be our best man, everyone is ready. It's been a long time in coming."
Freeing prisoners is common in Muslim countries during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Aug. 1 this year. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised Shourd's release at the end of Ramadan last year, but Iran's judiciary held up her release for several days.
Hickey noted that Sunday's court date comes as Iran once again prepares for Ramadan.
"It's a time of compassion," she said.
AP video journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed to this story from New York.