TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran will begin trying three American hikers on espionage charges on November 6, their lawyer told AFP on Wednesday, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was no basis for a trial.
Two of the three hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, have been held in a Tehran jail for more than a year, while female companion Sarah Shourd was released on bail of around 500,000 dollars last month.
“It is true that on November 6 their trial will start at 10:00 am (0630 GMT),” lawyer Masoud Shafii said, adding that judge Abolqasem Salavati will preside over proceedings.
Salavati has overseen a string of trials of defendants charged with anti-Iran or anti-revolution 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.
Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi confirmed the trial of the Americans would open soon, although he did not give a date.
“Whatever case we have (against the hikers) will be passed on to the judiciary,” the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Shafii said he had informed the families of the three hikers of the trial date.
“The three are accused of espionage and illegally entering the country,” he said, adding it was up to the family of Shourd, who returned to the United States on her release, to decide whether she should attend the trial or not.
“If she is not present, it will hurt her bail. I cannot request that she be present. It is up to them to decide. I as a lawyer have only informed them of the time of the trial and I will execute my duty to defend the three,” he said.
After Shourd’s release on bail, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi warned that if she did not appear in court, the surety would be “seized” and she would be tried in absentia.
On Tuesday, Clinton renewed appeals for the release of the two men still in custody on “humanitarian” grounds and said she was aware that their trial had been set for November 6.
“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.
“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 had been held for more than a year.
Iranian authorities arrested the three hikers on July 31, 2009 after they strayed across the border from Iraq, and accused them of “spying and illegally entering the country.”
The three have denied the charges, insisting that they mistakenly entered Iran after getting lost during a trek in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Shourd, 32, was released on bail on September 14, but had to leave behind her fiance Bauer and friend Fattal.
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 to be granted bail.
US President Barack Obama described her release as “bitter-sweet” as her two companions remained in custody.
On Saturday, Iran released Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi after holding him for nearly two years.
Taghavi was arrested in March 2008 for passing 200 dollars to an anti-government group regarded by Tehran as a terrorist organization.
He maintains he was just doing a favour for someone else and believed the money was simply a donation for a person in need.
The US State Department has also called on Iran to “provide full details” of its investigations into the disappearance of American citizen Robert Levinson who went missing in Iran in March 2007.