x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Trial put back for three US hikers arrested by Iran in 2009

Two men in jail for 15 months must now wait until February to appear in court along with woman freed in September and allowed to go home.

TEHRAN // A new trial date for three US hikers arrested in Iran and charged with espionage has been set for February 6 , their lawyer said today, prolonging the uncertainty of the two still in jail more than 15 months after being held on the Iraq border.

Masoud Shafii told AFP: "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)."

Mr Shafii said that he did not know if a special summons had been sent to Ms 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 Oman.

Mr 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."

Mr 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 on July 31, 2009 when they were detained.

Mr Shafii also said that he had asked the presiding judge, Abolqasem Salavati, to grant him permission to meet Mr Fattal and Mr 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.

Mr 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 the French academic Clotilde Reiss, who was arrested during the election unrest and later freed after paying a fine of US$285,000.

American officials, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have said there is no justification for prosecuting the three Americans.