TEHRAN (AFP) – The trial of three American hikers charged with espionage, which had been set for November 6, has been postponed, Iran’s prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie said on Monday.
“I heard today that the date of the trial is postponed as the (American) national who was released must be summonsed and the three be put on trial,” the ISNA news agency quoted Mohseni Ejeie as saying.
The lone woman among the three, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail on September 14 in a deal brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman and swiftly flew out of Iran.
The trial seems to have been postponed as Iranian authorities have still not summonsed Shourd.
“The problem which was pointed out by the judiciary was whether or not the national released had been summonsed or not and apparently she was not summonsed,” Mohseni Ejeie said, referring to Shourd.
Lawyer Masoud Shafii, who is defending the trio, told AFP that Shourd had not been summonsed.
Shourd’s family has said she is still mulling whether to return for the trial. Her hiking companions Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer remain in custody.
The trio insist that they had innocently strayed across the border with neighbouring Iraq when they were detained on July 31, 2009.
Last month, Shafii said that the trial was to open on November 6, with judge Abolqasem Salavati to preside over proceedings.
Salavati has overseen a string of trials of 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 French academic Clotilde Reiss, who was arrested during the election unrest and later freed after paying a fine of 285,000 dollars.
According to Shafii, the three are accused of “espionage and illegally entering the country.”
After Shourd’s release on bail, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi warned that if she did not appear in court, the surety of around 500,000 dollars would be “seized” and she would be tried in absentia.
Oman, a Gulf Arab sultanate that maintains relations with Iran as well as close ties with the West, reportedly helped broker a deal paving the way for her bail.
US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have said there is no justification for prosecuting the three Americans.
“We do not believe that there is any basis whatsoever for them to be put on trial and we regret that they and their families are being subjected to a criminal system that we do not think in any way reflects their actions,” she said last month.
“So it’s our continuing request to the Iranian government that, just as they released the young woman, that they release these two young men,” Clinton said, adding “it’s unfortunate” the pair have been held for more than a year.