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US 'spies' go on trial in Iran

Three young Americans accused of spying against Iran go on trial on Sunday, after their lawyer complained he had been denied access to the two who remain in custody.

world Updated: Feb 06, 2011 11:59 IST

Three young Americans accused of spying against Iran go on trial on Sunday, after their lawyer complained he had been denied access to the two who remain in custody.

The delayed trial of Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal comes at a time when anti-American rhetoric is at fever pitch in Iran as it marks the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran has dismissed repeated pleas by arch-foe the United States for their release but allowed the woman Shourd to return home on bail of around 500,000 dollars last September after more than a year in detention.

She is expected to be tried in absentia.

Shourd, her fiance Bauer and fellow hiker Fattal say they innocently strayed into Iran from across the unmarked border with northern Iraq when they were detained on July 31, 2009 by Iranian authorities.

Iran has accused them of "spying and illegally entering the country."

Their Iranian lawyer Masoud Shafii denied the charges against them and said he would press for their "innocence" and immediate release.

He said he had been denied access to Bauer and Fattal who are in custody.

"I should have met with Shane and Josh to prepare the defence, but I was not allowed," Shafii told AFP on Saturday. "I have been told I might see them one or two hours before the trial."

"I have studied the case in full detail. The question of spying is irrelevant. There is just the question of illegal entry, which even if it has happened has been inadvertent as the border was unmarked," Shafii said.

"They are not at all at fault," he said, adding that illegal entry is punishable by a maximum three-year jail term which can also been commuted to a fine under the Iranian penal code.

He also said Shourd was unlikely to appear in court.