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2 American hikers in Iranian prison plead not guilty

In their first official court hearing, the hikers plead not guilty to espionage and trespassing. A third hiker was released on bail in September and allowed to return to the United States.

February 07, 2011|By Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tehran — Two Americans imprisoned in Iran for 18 months had their first official court hearing Sunday and pleaded not guilty to charges including espionage and trespassing, their lawyer said.

Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, two UC Berkeley graduates who were arrested during a hiking trip on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009, attended the hearing and appeared to be in good health, said Masoud Shafii, their attorney. He said the judge ordered the trial continued to an unspecified date.

"I hoped the case would have ended today," Shafii said in a telephone interview. "And now I am hopeful that they will fix a session in the near future."

The session appeared to have dragged on for at least five hours. Shafii declined to disclose further details about the proceedings, saying he was barred from doing so by law.

State radio said Shafii was allowed to present a defense statement on behalf of his clients but cited only the charge of illegal entry into Iran, not the espionage allegations mentioned in the past by judiciary officials.

Shafii has been unable to meet regularly with his clients, but he said he was hopeful of conferring with them in coming days. "The hikers were brought to court too late" Sunday, he said. "So we could not have our private talks in the presence of the government-approved interpreter."

A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who is engaged to Bauer, was released in September on $500,000 bail and allowed to return home. Some Iranian officials have called on her to return for the trial, and she was named as a defendant in the court hearing Sunday. She has become an outspoken advocate for Fattal's and Bauer's freedom.

Diplomats of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents American interests in lieu of formal diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran, stood outside in the cold at the Revolutionary Court building for a glimpse of the hikers or Shafii. The defendants and their attorney apparently were escorted through a back entrance.

An embassy official, Christian Winter, said the mission had applied for permission to attend the hearing three weeks ago but was barred from entering the courthouse. Winter said the two prisoners are living in harsh conditions.

"In the past 18 months, two times each for a few minutes, the hikers have had access to a phone," he said. "Relatives send them letters regularly, but we are not sure whether they receive them in time or at all."

Since Shourd was released, the two men have not been allowed recreation time outside their cells, Winter said.

"Daily life in jail is not good or as good as before," he said.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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