Spy Trial of US Hikers Begins in Iran

New York Times

The trial of the three American hikers accused of espionage and illegally entering Iran began behind closed doors on Sunday, and not guilty pleas were entered on their behalf, their lawyer said.

The lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, said that no decisions were rendered in the case and that the trial would continue at a date to be determined.

Only two of the Americans, Joshua F. Fattal and Shane M. Bauer, both 28, appeared in court on Sunday. The third American, Sarah E. Shourd, 32, who is Mr. Bauer’s fiancée, was released on bail in September for medical reasons and returned to the United States. The three were arrested near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2009.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin in November but was postponed after Ms. Shourd failed to return to Iran to appear alongside Mr. Fattal and Mr. Bauer. She is now being tried in absentia.

Mr. Shafiee said Ms. Shourd had provided him with a statement that he read in her defense on Sunday. Iranian authorities have said that Ms. Shourd’s $500,000 bail would be forfeited if she failed to return to face charges.

Mr. Shafiee said that he had not been allowed to meet with his clients, who are being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, in preparation of their defense, despite assurances from the presiding judge that he would be permitted to see them for “one or two hours” before the proceedings.

All three Americans have denied that they knowingly entered Iranian territory or that they were involved in espionage.

There is speculation inside Iran that Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal will eventually be released after back-door negotiations with the United States. A similar deal was suspected when a French academic, Clotilde Reiss, who had been accused of espionage during the street protests that erupted after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was released in May.

Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who also supervised Ms. Reiss’s case, is presiding over the Americans’ trial, Mr. Shafiee said. The judge is known for sentencing a number of opposition protesters to death after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June 2009.

Full story via New York Times

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