AFP: Iran has set February 6 as a new trial date for three US hikers charged with espionage, their lawyer said Monday, prolonging the uncertainty of the two still in jail more than 15 months after being held on the Iraq border.
By Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has set February 6 as a new trial date for three US hikers charged with espionage, their lawyer said Monday, prolonging the uncertainty of the two still in jail more than 15 months after being held on the Iraq border.
“I have received an official notification from the court to appear in court on the 17 Bahman (February 6) to represent my three clients, Sarah (Shourd), Josh (Fattal) and Shane (Bauer),” lawyer Masoud Shafii told AFP.
He added that he was unaware if a special summons had been sent to Shourd, the lone woman among the three, who was released and flew out of Iran on bail on September 14 in a deal brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman.
Shafii, who criticised the new delay in the case which has increased tension between the United States and Iran, said the charges against his clients remained “illegal entry and espionage.”
The trial date had been set as November 6 but five days before the hearing Iran’s prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie announced a postponement, “as the (American) national who was released must be summonsed and the three be put on trial.”
Shafii expressed disappointment at the delay.
“I am not very happy (about the new court date) since it is very late,” he said.
“There is no justification for them to be kept behind bars. I was present at the November 6 court hearing; the judge was there too but the judiciary did not bring Josh and Shane.
“They told (me that) the reason for the postponement was the no show by the accused,” he added.
“They should not postpone the court hearing since if they get the minimum sentence, which is one year in jail, they have already been in prison for around 15 months.”
The trio insist that they had innocently strayed across the border with neighbouring Iraq when they were detained on July 31, 2009.
Shafii also said that he had asked the presiding judge, Abolqasem Salavati, to grant him permission to meet Fattal and Bauer in jail.
“I have not met the two since Sarah left Iran (in mid-September), but yesterday I asked judge Salavati to arrange a meeting with the two,” he said.
Salavati has overseen a string of trials involving people charged with anti-Iran or anti-revolutionary activities, particularly cases connected with huge street protests that followed Iran’s controversial 2009 presidential election.
He also presided over the trial of French academic Clotilde Reiss, who was arrested during the election unrest and later freed after paying a fine of 285,000 dollars.
US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have said there is no justification for prosecuting the three Americans.
“We do not believe that there is any basis whatsoever for them to be put on trial and we regret that they and their families are being subjected to a criminal system that we do not think in any way reflects their actions,” she said in October.
“So it’s our continuing request to the Iranian government that, just as they released the young woman, that they release these two young men,” Clinton said, adding “it’s unfortunate” the pair have been held for more than a year.