AFP: The lawyer for three US hikers detained in Iran since 2009 for alleged spying said on Thursday he is “hopeful” of a verdict within the next week.
By Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN (AFP) — The lawyer for three US hikers detained in Iran since 2009 for alleged spying said on Thursday he is “hopeful” of a verdict within the next week.
Sarah Shourd 32, her fiance Shane Bauer 28 and their friend Josh Fattal 28, were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq close to Iran’s border when they were arrested on July 31, 2009 after allegedly straying into Iranian territory.
Iran allowed Shourd to return home on bail of around 500,000 dollars in September 2010 on humanitarian and medical grounds.
“I am very optimistic and hopeful that with the court being understanding, the case will be resolved. I hope that the verdict is issued after this session,” Masoud Shafii told AFP, referring to the May 11 hearing.
“The issue of espionage is irrelevant and, even if the issue of illegal entry sticks, then they have been in prison for 21 months which is longer than the minimum sentence of one year,” he said.
“I think they should have not been arrested since the border area there is not clearly marked,” Shafii added, ahead of next week’s closed session.
Iran has accused the three hikers of “spying and illegally entering the country.” The trio have pleaded not guilty to the spying charges and maintain they innocently strayed into Iran across the unmarked border.
“I met Josh and Shane during the first court session in the court and not before the court session as I was promised,” the lawyer said, referring to a February 6 hearing.
“I have asked the judge for a meeting. He said it will happen but so far it has not. I asked again and I was told that I will be phoned but that has not happened. I hope it happens before May 11, even hours before the hearing.”
Shafii also said he has submitted a copy of Shourd’s “medical explanation” for not returning to Iran for next Wednesday’s session.
Shourd, who also missed the previous hearing, told AFP in Washington that she will not return to join her fiance and friend in the dock.
“There is a part of me that would like to go back and stand by Shane and Josh at this most difficult time. But really I’m afraid it would be too traumatic for me to go back after what I’ve been through in Iran,” she said on Wednesday.
She had sent the Iranian 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.
The families of Bauer and Fattal said they fully supported Shourd’s decision and hoped the men would also be released soon, although Tehran has dismissed repeated appeals from the US government.
The case has added to already tense relations between arch-foes Tehran and Washington over Iran’s controversial nuclear drive, exacerbated by strident remarks by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.