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Iran to put 3 American hikers on trial

The trio's relatives say they strayed across the border accidentally. Iran has accused them of espionage.

December 14, 2009|By Ramin Mostaghim

Reporting from Tehran — Three Americans arrested while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border last summer will soon be put on trial, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, accusing them of "dubious intent."

U.S. citizens Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, all living in or visiting the Middle East, were arrested July 31 during what friends and family describe as a travel adventure on the picturesque mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, which abuts Iran.

A friend who was traveling with them said they may have accidentally strayed across the Iranian border. They have been prisoners inside Iran for months, with limited access to their families.

Last month, an Iranian judiciary official said the face espionage charges.

Mottaki said the trio was being processed by the country's law enforcement and judiciary apparatuses.

"The interrogation of and the judicial process against the three U.S. nationals, who entered Iran illegally with dubious intent, are still ongoing," he said on state television during a meeting with his counterpart from Azerbaijan. "They will be put on trial by the Iranian judicial system and the necessary judicial rulings will be issued against them."

Iran's security forces have remained on high alert amid continued unrest over the country's disputed June 12 presidential elections.

In an unrelated case, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dowlatabadi said today that an unspecified number of Iranians had been identified and arrested for allegedly desecrating photographs of the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei, during Dec. 7 protest rallies.

Images of the acts, widely distributed on the internet and broadcast on state television, have angered Iranian hard-liners. Protesters opposed to the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have denied the accusations, alleging the footage was staged to discredit their cause.

"Since the investigations are still ongoing, we will announce the exact number after an indictment bill is issued," he told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

"At the moment we are sure that there are some people who are accused over this case," he said. "They have made some confessions too."

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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