Iran General NewsUS hikers set for May 11 trial hearing: Iran

US hikers set for May 11 trial hearing: Iran

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AFP: Iran said Sunday the trial of three US hikers arrested and accused of espionage in 2009 will resume on May 11, three months after the first hearing when their families expressed hopes of “truth and justice.”

By Farhad Pouladi

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said Sunday the trial of three US hikers arrested and accused of espionage in 2009 will resume on May 11, three months after the first hearing when their families expressed hopes of “truth and justice.”

“The next hearing session of the three Americans who are accused of espionage will be held on (May 11)… in a Tehran revolutionary court,” Alireza Avaie, chief of Tehran’s justice department, was quoted as telling the agency.

Avaie hinted the hearing would be a closed session, like the first, IRNA reported.

The prosecution of Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal began on February 6, a year and a half after they were arrested at a remote section of the Islamic republic’s border with Iraq.

Iran has accused them of “spying and illegally entering the country.”

The three hikers have pleaded not guilty to the spying charges and maintain they innocently strayed into Iran from across the unmarked border with northern Iraq when they were arrested on July 31, 2009.

Iran has dismissed repeated pleas from the United States for the release of Bauer and Fattal after it allowed Shourd to return home on bail of around 500,000 dollars in September last year on humanitarian grounds.

The families of Bauer and Fattal expressed hope that “truth and justice will at long last prevail” when the legal proceedings kicked off.

“We are pleased that Shane and Josh have had the opportunity to explain their innocence to the court and hope that the Iranian authorities will now move to resolve their case,” the families said at the time in a statement.

“Now that the court has heard their testimony first hand, we hope and pray that truth and justice will at long last prevail. In the meantime, we continue to worry terribly about their well-being after such a lengthy detention.”

The three Americans’ Iranian lawyer Masoud Shafii denied the charges against them and said he would press for their “innocence” and immediate release.

“I have studied the case in full detail. The question of spying is irrelevant. There is just the question of illegal entry, which even if it has happened has been inadvertent as the border was unmarked,” Shafii told AFP in early February.

He said illegal entry was punishable by a maximum three-year jail term, which could be commuted to a fine under the Iranian penal code.

Shourd, a teacher, writer and women’s rights activist, grew up in Los Angeles and later moved to Damascus where she met Bauer and reportedly worked on a project to help Iraqi students attend US colleges.

Bauer, a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist, met Shourd while helping to organise anti-US demonstrations in Syria aimed at criticising the war in Iraq.

The families, who were allowed to meet the trio in Tehran in May 2010, later announced Shourd and Bauer became engaged in prison.

Fattal, an environmentalist and teacher, had travelled to Damascus in 2009 where he met Shourd and Bauer.

The case has become an irritant in already tense Tehran-Washington relations over Iran’s nuclear drive, a dispute punctuated by UN sanctions and strident remarks from hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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