Iran General NewsIn Tehran, trial begins of Americans held as spies

In Tehran, trial begins of Americans held as spies

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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 New York Times

By WILLIAM YONG

Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal attend their trail in Tehran  Photo: APTEHRAN — 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. The 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 the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, 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.

Ms. Shourd, in an interview in November, said that she, Mr. Bauer and their friend Mr. Fattal were hiking on an unmarked dirt road and inadvertently crossed into Iran when a guard gestured to them. “He pointed to the ground and said ‘Iran’ and pointed to the trail we had been on before he waved to us, then said ‘Iraq,’ ” said Ms. Shourd, who lives in Oakland, Calif. “We did not actually enter Iran until he gestured to us. We were confused and worried and wanted to go back.”

She had been teaching English in Damascus, Syria, where Mr. Bauer was working as a freelance journalist while both studied Arabic. Mr. Fattal had come to visit, she said, and they decided to travel to Kurdistan after a friend recommended they make the trip.

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.

Ms. Reiss was allowed to leave shortly before France released Ali Vakili Rad, who was convicted of the 1991 assassination in suburban Paris of Shapour Bakhtiar, a former Iranian prime minister who served under the shah. France and Iran denied that the two releases were linked.

Mr. Bauer’s and Mr. Fattal’s fates are clouded by the diplomatic impasse between Iran and the United States that followed talks in Istanbul last month on Iran’s nuclear program. The talks ended with no clear progress after both sides refused to back down on the major points of contention.

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.

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