Iran to 'rule soon on US spy suspects'

Court to issue verdict on August 7 over two Americans arrested on unmarked border, lawyer says after hearing on Sunday.

    Sara Shourd, centre, is being tried in absentia following her release from Iran on medical grounds [GALLO/GETTY]

    Two US citizens jailed in Iran on charges of espionage and illegal entry are expected to receive a court verdict on August 7, their lawyer said after a court hearing in the capital, Tehran.

    Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were arrested along with Sarah Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009.

    The verdict is be issued "soon", Al-Alam television, an Iranian Arabic station said, quoting Iran's general prosecutor, following Sunday's hearing.

    All three defendants have denied the charges and said they were only hiking in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

    Dorsa Jabbari, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, spoke to the lawyer representing the three Americans.

    "He expected a verdict to be delivered within a week, but according to a judiciary spokesman the verdict will handed down "at some point in the near future". Their lawyer is confident that the proceedings went his way and that his clients will be freed very shortly. However, this case is a very sensitive one in the Islamic Republic. There has been speculation in the past that the Americans will be released.

    "I think the verdict being handed down within a week's time is certainly an optimistic opinion from the lawyer at this stage," Jabbari said.

    Sara Shourd had not been summoned to attend the hearing, a sign the lawyer believed to indicate that this his clients could be freed immediately.

    Shourd, who is being tried in absentia, returned to the US following her release on humanitarian and medical grounds in September 2010, for which a bail of about $500,000 was paid.

    'Happy ending?'

    "Since the hearing date coincides with the two year anniversary of their arrest, and it is the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, I am hopeful that this case has a happy ending," their lawyer Masoud Shafii told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

    "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."

    Ahead of the new hearing, the families of the detained issued a statement on Friday in New York, and Shourd used her statement to wish 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 fiancé, my friend and our families, it would mean the world to us," she said.

    The trial has been hit by a number of delays since November 6, 2010, when it was postponed to February 6, 2011 over what was termed "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, according to Shafii.

    Shourd, who did not attend the February 6 hearing, told AFP in Washington that she will not return to Iran to join the other two in the dock.

    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.

    Strained US-Iran relations

    Shafii said he has met Bauer and Fattal only twice, the last time on February 6, 2011 when they appeared in court for the first hearing.

    "I still have not met them (for) the lawyer-client meeting that I have requested. They told me that they will inform me and I am still pursuing it," he said.

    The US government has appealed for the two men to be released, insisting that they have done nothing wrong.

    Iran and the US have no direct diplomatic relations, so Washington has been relying on an interests section at the Swiss embassy to follow the case.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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