AFP: Iran has set a date of July 31 for the next hearing in the trial of two American hikers who have been held for around 22 months in the Islamic republic on espionage charges, their lawyer told AFP on Monday.
By Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has set a date of July 31 for the next hearing in the trial of two American hikers who have been held for around 22 months in the Islamic republic on espionage charges, their lawyer told AFP on Monday.
“I have received official notification to be ready in court on July 31 at 10 am (0530 GMT) to defend my clients,” Masoud Shafii told AFP, adding that the new hearing date coincides with the second anniversary of their arrest.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 28, were arrested along with Sarah Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009.
Iran has accused the three hikers of “spying and illegally entering the country.”
They have pleaded not guilty to spying charges, saying they were hiking in Iraq’s northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently strayed into Iran across the unmarked border.
Shourd is being tried in absentia after she returned to the United States when she was freed on humanitarian and medical grounds in September 2010, paying bail of around 500,000 dollars.
Washington has vehemently denied Tehran’s charges and has pressed for their release.
The trial has been hit by a number of delays since November 6, 2010, when it was postponed to February 6, 2011 over what was termed “an error in the judicial proceedings.”
Another hearing scheduled for May 11 was cancelled after Fattal and Bauer were not brought before the court, Shafii said at the time.
Shourd, who did not attend the February 6 hearing, told AFP in Washington that she will not return to Iran to join the other two in the dock.
She said she had sent Iran’s revolutionary court a five-page evaluation by a clinical forensic psychologist, who concluded she was at high risk of psychological problems if she returned to face espionage charges.
“I’ve emailed the families and Sarah. This time the notification that I have received did not demand her presence, it just said to be ready to defend all three,” Shafii added on Monday.
Shafii said that he has met Bauer and Fattal only twice, the last time on February 6, 2011 when they appeared in court for the first hearing.
Iran in late May 2011 implicitly rejected a US State Department request to grant better access to Fattal and Bauer by allowing Swiss diplomats, who represent US interests in the absence of Washington having diplomatic relations with Iran.
Swiss embassy officials also insist they have been unable to meet the detained hikers since October 2010. They were also banned from attending the February hearing.
Bauer and Fattal were allowed to call home in late May for just the third time since their arrest, telling their families they had staged a 17-day hunger strike earlier this year after being prevented from receiving letters.
The hikers’ detention has added to the animosity between arch-foes Tehran and Washington, which has increased over Iran’s controversial nuclear drive and outspoken remarks by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
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 is a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist who met Shourd while helping to organise anti-US demonstrations in Syria aimed at criticising the war in Iraq. They were engaged while in jail in Tehran.
Fattal, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is an environmentalist and teacher and travelled to Damascus in 2009 where he met Shourd and Bauer.
Their case has attracted high profile support in the United States.
On May 24, the legendary Muslim boxing champion Muhammad Ali supported a call for Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to free Bauer and Fattal.
Khamenei is the supreme authority in the Islamic republic.