ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Iran has set a date to put three American citizens on trial for espionage, in a case that has been steeped in politics for more than a year and is to begin in Tehran on Nov. 6.
Two of the Americans — Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer — remain in Evin Prison in Tehran, where they have been since they were arrested along the northern reaches of the Iran-Iraq in July 2009. The third, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail of around $500,000, facilitated by Oman, and allowed to leave Iran last month on health grounds.
Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., said Tuesday that she’d been told by an attorney to expect the trial Nov. 6.
The three Americans and their families say they were tourists hiking in the scenic but largely unmarked border area when they were arrested by Iranian security forces.
Upon arrival back in the US, Ms. Shourd said the three were “innocent of any charges, and called for the speedy release of Fattal and Bauer. Under Iranian law, espionage can be punished by execution.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often suggested that the freedom of the three could be made in exchange for a number of Iranian nationals currently held on host of charges in the United States.
The release of Shourd just prior to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s annual trip to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was seen by some in Iran – including Ahmadinejad – as a goodwill gesture that should be reciprocated by Washington.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about the upcoming trial that the three were innocent, and there was no need for a trial.
“We do not believe that there is any basis whatsoever for them to be put on trial, and we regret that they and their families are being subject to a criminal system that we do not think in any way reflects their actions,” said Mrs. Clinton.
Senior Iranian officials have said that they have evidence that the three were in contact with US and Western intelligence agencies and were involved in spying on the Islamic Republic.
News reports suggest that the presiding judge will be Abolqasem Salavati, a hard-liner who has played an important part in the group trials – derided by reformist opponents of the government as “show trials” – that were staged from August 2009, after more than 4,000 protesters and political reformists were rounded up in the lethal aftermath of Iran’s controversial June 2009 presidential election.
During those trials, lengthy indictments read out in court connected more than 100 people in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government through a “velvet revolution” inspired and supported by the West. Few outside Iran – or opponents inside the country – took the charges seriously, but scores of sentences for years in prison have been handed down.