Sean Penn Played Role in Helping Free Two American Hostages in Iran

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The actor met with Venezuela's president to ask for his help in the release of Josh Fattel and Shane Bauer, who were jailed in July 2009 on charges of espionage.

The two Americans released last week after two years in Iranian custody have Sean Penn, in part, to thank for their freedom.

According to Reuters, the actor flew to Venezuela to ask President Hugo Chavez to intervene in the case of Josh Fattel and Shane Bauer, who were arrested in July 2009 on the border of Iraq. They said they were hiking but were jailed for espionage.

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Venezuela's deputy foreign minister told Reuters 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," a 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."

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Asked for comment by THR, Penn's rep said: "Yes, he was involved in working towards their release. He is not, however, providing detail or offering a statement."

The actor is known for his political and social activism: He was deeply critical of the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush and was involved in humanitarian efforts following Haiti's earthquake and Hurricane Katrina. 

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Earlier this year, the Producers Guild honored Penn with its Stanley Kramer Award -- which was established in 2002 to honor a motion picture, producer or individual whose achievement or contribution illuminates provocative social issues in an accessible and elevating fashion -- for his work in Haiti. He became the first individual to receive the award.

In January, Chavez joked that Washington should end a diplomatic stand-off with Caracas by appointing either Penn, Bill Clinton or Oliver Stone as its next ambassador to Venezuela.

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"We have a lot of friends there," Chavez said.

Reuters' source 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.

Reuters contributed to this report.