Two Americans held in Iran for the last 18 months on suspicion of espionage pleaded not guilty in court yesterday on the first day of their closed-door trial, state television reported.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested on July 31, 2009, near Iran’s border with Iraq, along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was released on $500,000 bail in September and returned home.
The trio say they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq and, if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake. Under Iranian law, espionage can carry the death penalty.
State-run English language Press TV said the two men had appeared in court but that Shourd did not. All three pleaded not guilty of espionage and illegal entry.
No date has been set for the trial to resume. The proceedings were closed to the public and press.
The affair has compounded tension between Tehran and Washington, which have had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A trial date set for last November was postponed at the last minute due to the absence of Shourd.
Press TV quoted the Tehran prosecutor’s office as saying “it has ‘compelling evidence’ that three were cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies.”
The defense lawyer, who was barred from seeing his clients for four months before the trial, said he was confident the spying charge and even charges of illegal entry into Iran could be beaten.