The two American hikers released from Iran Wednesday after two years in prison reportedly had some help from Hollywood in securing their freedom: Academy Award-winning actor and liberal activist Sean Penn.
According to Reuters, a source said Penn flew to Venezuela to ask President Hugo Chavez to encourage Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to let Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer go.
Venezuela's deputy foreign minister told Reuters on Thursday that Chavez brought up the case with his Iranian ally Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after being alerted to the Americans' plight by friends in U.S. "intellectual circles".
"The American 'intellectual' who took up the case with him was Sean Penn," the source told Reuters.
"Penn was very committed to the case ... He flew to Caracas several months ago to raise it with Chavez and he kept on it," the source said.
Penn's spokeswoman in the United States confirmed this account, but would give no further details.
The source also said the State Department had been aware of Chavez's involvement in the attempts to free the hikers and did not try to block it. On Thursday, a State Department spokesman said only that they were happy Fattal and Bauer were safe.
Penn, who called for the impeachment of former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, has a long history with Chavez: In 2007, Chavez called the actor "well-informed about what is happening in the United States and the world, in spite of being in Hollywood.
In January, Chavez joked that the U.S. should appoint either Penn, Bill Clinton or director Oliver Stone as the next ambassador to Venezuela, saying: "We have a lot of friends there."