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Iran begins trial of hikers

WASHINGTON — A high-level Iranian court began trying three U.S.

WASHINGTON — A high-level Iranian court began trying three U.S. hikers — including a Minnesota native — over the weekend.

Native Minnesotan Shane Bauer and his friend Josh Fattal have been imprisoned in Iran for more than a year and a half after they and Bauer’s fiancée, Sarah Shourd, were arrested in July 2009 while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian authorities said they were definitely in Iranian territory and have charged them with espionage. A state-run English language TV news network quoted prosecutors saying they have “compelling evidence” the three were U.S. spies.

Both Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty. Shourd, who was released in September on bond, remained in the United States and entered her not-guilty plea via statement. The espionage allegations have been directly refuted from no less a source than President Obama, who said last year that the trio were not spies and “have committed no crime.”

The first court appearance was closed to the public, press and the ambassador of Switzerland, who acts as a go-between for the United States in Iran. A second court date has not been set.

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“The Swiss were not allowed in. No journalists were allowed in. The lengthy session was not conclusive. They are innocent. This is what we know,” said Alex Fattal, Josh’s brother in a statement following the court appearance.

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Video of the now very thin Bauer and Fattal at trial from Iran’s Press TV.