June 21, 2011 / 8:17 PM / 8 years ago

Iran says U.S. hikers to be tried on July 31: lawyer

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will hear the case against three Americans detained for nearly two years on spying charges on July 31, their lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday, saying he hoped a final decision on their case will be made then.

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. American hikers Shane Bauer (L) and Josh Fattal attend the first session of their trial at the revolutionary court in Tehran February 6, 2011. The two Americans held in Iran for the last 18 months on suspicion of espionage pleaded not guilty in court on Sunday on the first day of their closed-door trial, state television reported. REUTERS/PRESS TV

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested by Iranian forces on July 31, 2009, on suspicion of spying after crossing into Iran from neighboring Iraq.

“The next trial will be held on July 31,” lawyer Masoud Shafiee said, adding that he had received a notification of the trial from Iranian authorities.

Shourd, who was released on bail in September and returned home, has insisted the trio were innocent hikers who unintentionally crossed the unmarked border into Iran.

“Since the trial date coincides with the second anniversary of their arrest and continuous detention, I hope that this session will put an end to their case,” Shafiee said.

The U.S. State Department renewed its call on Iran, with which Washington has no diplomatic ties, to release the two men.

“Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer have been unjustly detained in Iran for two years, and we call on Iran to do the right thing and allow them to come home,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Tuesday.

The Americans’ last hearing, scheduled for May 11, was postponed without a clear reason. Iranian authorities had called on Shourd to return to Tehran to stand trial alongside Fattal and Bauer.

Shafiee said that Iran had not asked Shourd to be present at the next court session.

Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty at a closed-door court hearing on February 6. Under Iran’s Islamic law, espionage can be punished by execution.

Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had also said earlier this month he hoped a final verdict over the case would be reached in late July.

The case has further complicated relations between Tehran and Washington already fraught over Iran’s nuclear activity.

Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of an atomic energy program. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear activity is entirely peaceful. (Writing by Mitra Amiri; editing by David Stamp)

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