Iran General NewsTrial of American hikers charged with espionage in Iran...

Trial of American hikers charged with espionage in Iran is unexpectedly delayed

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New York Times: The trial of three Americans charged with espionage and illegal entry in Iran after their arrest almost two years ago near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan failed to resume in Tehran on Wednesday, and their Iranian lawyer said he had formally protested the delay.

The New York Times

By ALAN COWELL

PARIS — The trial of three Americans charged with espionage and illegal entry in Iran after their arrest almost two years ago near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan failed to resume in Tehran on Wednesday, and their Iranian lawyer said he had formally protested the delay.

One of the defendants, Sarah E. Shourd, 32, was released on bail last September for medical reasons and returned to the United States. The other two, Joshua F. Fattal and Shane M. Bauer, both 28, had been set to appear for a hearing on Wednesday, but their lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, said they were not brought to court, news reports said.

Reuters quoted Mr. Shafiee as saying that he had lodged a formal protest.

The case has added to the tensions between Iran and the United States relating to many issues but focusing on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Western countries say it aims to create weapons, but Tehran says it is intended to help generate civilian electric power.

The reason for the defendants’ absence in court on Wednesday was not immediately known. On two previous occasions, judges delayed the proceedings, citing the absence of Ms. Shourd.

The three Americans, who were arrested in July 2009, deny that they were involved in espionage or that they knowingly entered Iran during what they have described as a hiking trip in Iraq.

Previously, Mr. Shafiee argued that Iranian law did not permit the judiciary to postpone the case because of Ms. Shourd’s absence.

“When there are several accused persons, a judge cannot postpone the case just because one of them is not present,” Mr. Shafiee said in a telephone interview in late April. “The judge must issue separate verdicts for Shane and Josh. Sarah’s verdict can be issued in absentia, or her case alone can be delayed.”

On Tuesday, the State Department in Washington urged Iran to resolve the case quickly.

In a statement, Amnesty International also called for the release of the Americans, saying their case had not met international standards for a fair trial.

It said the judicial process “indicates a political motive in holding them, which may amount to ‘hostage-taking.’ ”

“The facts surrounding the hikers’ arrest are disputed, and Iran’s justice system has systematically failed to observe international fair trial standards in this case, including giving the men adequate contact with their lawyers, families or consular assistance,” the statement said, quoting Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran represents American interests.

The two men have been held in Evin prison in Tehran and “have only been granted one brief encounter with family, when their mothers visited Iran in May 2010,” the statement said.

Two previous hearings, in November and February, were held in private. Iranian law provides for such cases to be held in public, but judges are able to make exceptions in sensitive cases.

In an interview in November, Ms. Shourd said that she; Mr. Bauer, who is her fiancé; and Mr. Fattal were hiking on an unmarked dirt road 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.”

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