Iran to announce US hikers` verdict in coming days

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd were held by Iranian forces in 2009 on suspicion of spying.

Tehran: Iran said verdicts on American hikers detained on charges of espionage will be announced in the coming days, its Arabic language al-Alam television quoted a judiciary official as saying on Sunday.

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested by Iranian forces in July 2009 on suspicion of spying after crossing into Iran from Iraq. Shourd was freed on bail in September 2010 and returned to the United States.

Under Iran`s Islamic law, espionage can be punished by execution.

"The Sunday session was the last court session and their verdicts will be announced in the coming days," al-Alam quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying without giving further details.

Their lawyer Masoud Shafiee said on Sunday that the verdicts will be announced "by next week the latest”. The two Americans were both present at the court on Sunday, the ISNA news agency quoted Shafiee as saying.

In November, Iran`s judiciary announced espionage charges against the three. Their families said they were hiking and had strayed across the border accidentally. Washington says the charges are totally unfounded and they should be released.

The last hearing was scheduled for May 11 but was postponed without any explanation. Iranian authorities had previously called on Shourd to return to Tehran to stand trial alongside Fattal and Bauer.

Shafiee said on Saturday that "this time Sarah was not asked by the judiciary to attend the trial”.

Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty at a closed-door court hearing on February 06, but the lawyer said he had had no recent legal access to his clients.

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. The two countries are now embroiled in a row over Iran`s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making atomic bombs. Tehran denies this.

Some Iranian officials and newspapers had suggested the Americans might be swapped for Iranians jailed in the United States. But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there were no talks between the United States and Iran on a prisoner exchange.

Iran said in 2009 it believed 11 Iranians were being held in the United States.

Bureau Report

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