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Middle east

Still seeking justice: Americans await trial in Iran

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-05-12

Iranian authorities have postponed Wednesday’s trial of three Americans, including Sarah Shourd, charged with spying, according to their lawyer. Speaking to FRANCE 24, Shourd (pictured) called for a swift end to their ordeal.

Nearly eight months after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised Sarah Shourd an expedited judicial process, the trial of three Americans – including Shourd - charged with spying in Iran was once again postponed Wednesday.

Shourd, along with her fiancé Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, were scheduled to go on trial Wednesday for spying and illegally crossing the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iran.

But the court session was postponed because the two men in detention – Bauer and Fattal - were not transferred from the prison to the court, according to their lawyer.

"They did not bring Shane and Josh to the court (from prison) and I was not told why. I waited in the court for two hours," the trio's lawyer Masoud Shafii told AFP Wednesday, before adding, "It is certainly the fault of the judiciary since the prisons are under the judiciary.”

The three Americans were arrested near the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, 2009. Shourd was released on humanitarian grounds in September 2010 and now back in the USA. She is facing a trial in absentia.

THE FRANCE 24 INTERVIEW

Days after her release last year, Shourd met with Ahmadinejad while the Iranian president was in New York for the UN General Assembly meeting.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 from New York shortly before the trial was scheduled to start Wednesday, Shourd said the Iranian president had told her that he would tell the judiciary to treat their case with leniency and expediency.

“Twenty-one months is not expedient,” said Shourd, referring to Bauer and Fattal’s detention in Iran. “But I would like to believe that President Ahmadinejad has passed on this message to the judiciary and we’re close to the end of this.”

But with Wednesday’s trial postponement, that seemed unlikely.

Not suitably dressed for Iran

Speaking to FRANCE 24 Wednesday, Shourd said the two detained Americans had never met their lawyer and that she hadn’t heard from them in more than five months.

“It’s cruel,” she said. “I write to them and send them letters every single day but we don’t know if they get them.”

The trio’s ordeal began in the summer of 2009, when they were detained while hiking near the Iraq-Iran border.

The three Americans were based in Damascus, Syria, at that time and had travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan for a trekking vacation, said Shourd. They maintain that they were not aware that they had crossed the unmarked border between Iraq and Iran, denying Iranian charges of spying.

“When the Iranian soldiers found us hiking, they forced us into their jeep and they drove us into Iran,” said Shourd. “The first thing they did was stop in the nearest town to buy me proper clothing because in Iran it’s mandatory for women to wear a headscarf and I wasn’t wearing one. So the soldiers knew from the first minute that I had no intention, none of us had any intention of being anywhere near Iran and for that matter, we don’t know if we were because the border is entirely unmarked.”

‘This has become political’

In September 2010, after a 14-month detention - mostly in solitary confinement - in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, Shourd was freed on humanitarian and medical grounds after paying bail of around $500,000.

The 32-year-old California native chose not to attend the trial proceedings in Tehran on health grounds.

“I would like to defend our innocence, but my clinical psychologist has diagnosed me with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and has said that if I return it could aggravate my condition and could result in permanent damage,” she said.

The case of the US hikers has further complicated US-Iranian relations, which are already fraught over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Washington has vehemently denied Tehran's spying charges and has pressed for their freedom.

While she was in detention in Iran, Shourd said that even her Iranian investigator told her that the case was beyond the investigator’s control and was essentially locked in the diplomatic tug-of-war between Tehran and Washington.

“My investigator said the same thing,” she told FRANCE 24. “He said, ‘Sarah, I know you’re innocent but this has become political and I don’t know what is going to happen,’” she said. “There’s 30 years of animosity between our governments. It has nothing to do with Shane and Josh as individuals. I just think that it’s time for Shane and Josh to get a fair trial.”

Date created : 2011-05-11

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