Verdict on three U.S. hikers detained in Iran expected ‘soon’
TEHRAN — The trial of three US hikers held for exactly two years on espionage charges was completed on Sunday and a verdict will be issued “soon,” Al-Alam television said, quoting Iran’s general prosecutor.
“The last session was held today in Bench 15 of the Revolutionary Court,” Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie told the Arabic-language channel.
“The final defence of the accused was heard. The end of the legal examination was announced and the verdict will be issued soon,” said Ejeie, who also acts as spokesman for the judiciary in the Islamic republic.
The session was held behind closed doors with one of the accused, Sarah Shourd who is on bail, not present, the channel added.
Their lawyer Masoud Shafii told AFP on Sunday that the verdict on Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal should be issued within a week.
“The court session ended, the judge announced the end of proceedings, I did a complete defence, Josh and Shane did so also and I also defended Sarah. The court will issue its ruling in a week,” Shafii said.
Asked about how optimistic he was about the ruling, he replied: “Reliance on God.”
Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were arrested along with Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009.
Iran accuses the three of “spying and illegally entering the country.”
They have pleaded not guilty to spying charges, saying they were hiking in Iraq’s northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently walked into Iran across an unmarked border.
Washington has vehemently denied Tehran’s charges that the three are spies and has pressed for their release.
Shourd, who got engaged to Bauer in prison in Tehran, was tried in absentia after returning to the United States following her release on humanitarian and medical grounds in September 2010, after bail of about $500,000 was paid.
“I believe that they are innocent; the espionage charges have no relevance. Even if the court does not accept my defence, the two years they’ve spent behind bars is punishment enough,” Shafii told AFP on Wednesday of the illegal entry charge.
Ahead of the new hearing, Shourd used a statement wishing Muslims in Iran and everywhere a blessed Ramadan on behalf of the families of the two men.
“Please, if you could make a little room in your prayers on the eve of Ramadan for my fiance, my friend and our families, it would mean the world to us,” she said, referring to the Muslim fasting month when compassion is advocated.
The trial was hit by a number of delays since November 6, 2010, when it was postponed until February 6, 2011 over “an error in the judicial proceedings.”
Another hearing scheduled for May 11 this year was cancelled after Fattal and Bauer were not brought before the court, Shafii said.
Shourd, who did not attend the February 6 hearing, told AFP in Washington she would not return to Iran for the trial.
She said she had sent Iran’s 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 case of the three hikers garnered high profile support in the United States.
On May 24, legendary Muslim boxing champion Muhammad Ali supported a call for Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to free Bauer and Fattal.
Amnesty International on Friday also renewed calls for Tehran to release the two.
Their detention has added to the animosity between arch-foes Tehran and Washington, which has increased over Iran’s disputed nuclear drive and outspoken remarks by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Shourd, a teacher, writer and women’s rights activist, grew up in Los Angeles and later moved to Damascus where she met Bauer, a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist.
He met Shourd while helping to organise anti-US demonstrations in Syria aimed at criticising the war in Iraq.
Fattal, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is an environmentalist and teacher and travelled to Damascus in 2009 where he met Shourd and Bauer.