Iran sets February trial date for 3 Americans

The lawyer for three Americans facing espionage charges in Iran said Sunday that a new trial date of Feb. 6 has been set but that the judge has refused to allow him to meet with his clients to prepare a defense.

The trial was to have started on Nov. 6, but authorities said they delayed it because one of the Americans, who was freed on bail, had not been summoned to return to the country to appear in court.

Their lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, said he received an official notification Sunday of the new trial date.

Sarah Shourd was freed in September and returned to the United States. Her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in prison.

The case is among the many points of confrontation between Iran and the United States, which has repeatedly appealed for the Americans to be released.

Shafiei said the judge turned down his request to meet with Bauer and Fattal — both 28 — to prepare for the trial.

"He replied, 'You will meet them on the day of the trial,'" Shafiei told The Associated Press. "I need to meet them to prepare my defense letter."

Shourd and their families have denied they did anything wrong. After her release, Shourd said they were hiking in a scenic and relatively peaceful part of northern Iraq and inadvertently crossed an unmarked border with Iran when they were arrested in July 2009.

Iranian authorities said they freed Shourd as a humanitarian gesture because of unspecified health concerns, though she has since said her health is fine.

Iran warned that it will seize the $500,000 bail posted by Shourd if she does not return for trial.

The 32-year-old woman, from Oakland, California, has not disclosed any plans to return to Iran.

She said in an interview published Oct. 31 in The New York Times that the three stepped off an unmarked dirt road and inadvertently crossed from Iraq only because a border guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach.

Initially, Iran accused them only of illegally crossing the border. Later, the espionage charges were added, but authorities have given few details to support the accusations.

Tehran's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, said in September that the Americans had "equipment and documents and received training." He did not elaborate.

"They did not come to Iraq and Iran for entertainment," Dowlatabadi was quoted as saying then by the official IRNA news agency.

Samantha Topping, a spokeswoman for the families of the Americans, said Sunday they had no immediate comment on the announcement of a new trial date.

The three Americans are graduates of the University of California at Berkeley. Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English teacher. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them in July 2009.

Bauer is a native of Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal grew up in Pennsylvania.


Patrick Condon contributed to this report from Minneapolis.