Tuesday 21 June 2011

Iran says U.S. hikers to be tried on July 31: lawyer

Iran will hear the case against three Americans detained for nearly two years on spying charges on July 31, their lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday, and he said he hoped a final decision on their case will be made then.

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested by Iranian forces on July 31, 2009, on suspicion of spying after crossing into Iran from neighboring Iraq.

"The next trial will be held on July 31," Masoud Shafiee said on Tuesday. He said he had received a notification of the trial from Iranian authorities.

Shourd, who was released on bail in September and returned home, has insisted the trio were innocent hikers who unintentionally crossed an unmarked border into Iran.

"Since the trial date coincides with the second anniversary of their arrest and continuous detention, I hope that this session will put an end to their case," Shafiee said.

The U.S. State Department last month urged Iran, with which Washington has no diplomatic ties, to quickly resolve the case.

The Americans' last hearing, scheduled for May 11, was postponed without a clear reason. Iranian authorities had called on Shourd to return to Tehran to stand trial alongside Fattal and Bauer.

Shafiee said unlike the previous time, Iran had not asked Shourd to be present at the court session.

Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty at a closed-door court hearing on February 6. Under Iran's Islamic law, espionage can be punished by execution.

Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had also said earlier this month he hoped a final verdict over the case would be made in late July.

The case has further complicated relations between Tehran and Washington already fraught over Iran's nuclear activity.

Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of an atomic energy program. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear activity is entirely peaceful.


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