Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Iran sets Feb. 6 trial for US hikers

NEW DATE:The trial, which was postponed from this month, will take place when Tehran celebrates the anniversary of the fall of the US-backed shah’s regime

AFP, TEHRAN

Iran has set Feb. 6 as a new trial date for three US hikers charged with espionage, their lawyer said yesterday, prolonging the uncertainty of the two still in jail more than 15 months after being held on the Iraq border.

“I have received an official notification to appear in court on the 17 Bahman [Feb. 6] to represent my three clients, Sarah [Shourd], Josh [Fattal] and Shane [Bauer],” lawyer Masoud Shafii said.

He added that he was unaware if a special summons had been sent to Shourd, the lone woman among the three, who was released on bail and flew out of Iran on Sep. 14 in a deal brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman.

Shafii, who criticized the new delay in a case that has increased tension between the US and Iran, said the charges against his clients remained “illegal entry and espionage.”

Shourd, 32, her fiance, Bauer, 28, and Fattal, 28, all say they had innocently strayed across the border with neighboring Iraq when they were detained on July 31 last year.

The new trial date falls in early February, when Iran celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the fall of the US-backed shah’s regime — and when anti-US rhetoric reaches a climax.

The trial had initially been set for Nov. 6, but five days before the hearing, Iranian Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie announced a postponement, saying that “the [US] national who was released must be summoned and the three be put on trial.”

DISAPPOINTMENT

Shafii expressed disappointment at the delay.

“I am not very happy [about the new court date] since it is very late,” he said.

“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,” he said.

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

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 presidential election last year.

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 US$285,000.

Shourd was freed despite criticism within the Iranian judiciary of interference in its work by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, with some lawmakers directly attacking the president for pushing for her release.

The Swiss embassy, too, worked intensely in securing Shourd’s release. The mission manages US interests in Iran, with Washington and Tehran having no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. US officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have said there is no justification for prosecuting the three Americans.

‘NO BASIS’

“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,” Clinton 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 that “it’s unfortunate” the pair have been held for more than a year.

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