Iran Expects to Hold Trial Soon for U.S. Hikers

This image taken from Iran's IRINN television shows two American hikers embracing their mothers during a meeting north of Tehran, May 20, 2010. Iranian State TV

Three Americans detained in Iran for almost a year on suspicion of spying will likely go on trial soon if prosecutors decide there is enough evidence to press charges, Iran's top human rights official said Friday.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, said the latest sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council against Iran over its nuclear program should not affect a possible trial.

"I think it should not be very far from now," Larijani told reporters in Geneva, adding that authorities were in the final stages of collecting information and carrying out interrogations.

Sarah Shourd, 31, her boyfriend Shane Bauer, 27, and their friend Josh Fattal, 27, were arrested in July along the Iran-Iraq border. Their families say the three were simply hiking in Iraq's mountainous northern Kurdish region and if they crossed the border, it was accidental.

Hickey lives in Minnesota, Shourd is from Oakland, Calif., and Fattal is from suburban Philadelphia. Iran allowed their mothers to visit in May, the families' first contact with them since they were taken into custody, but the mothers returned home empty-handed.

"Our security people are very anxious to see what was behind the intrusion of our borders," Larijani said, adding that possibilities ranged from "they were just hiking and by mistake they came to that area" or "that they were totally spies."

Larijani said his government-approved human rights body was pressing for a fair handling of the case and for the three to be presumed innocent unless proved otherwise.

But he rejected suggestions that the Americans might be swapped for Iranians held in the United States.

"The exchange is not something that we advocate," Larijani said. "Our judicial system does not agree with these kinds of arrangements."

He said six or seven Iranians are being held by the United States without access to lawyers, diplomats or their families, among them a nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, who he claimed was kidnapped by the United States while in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. media have reported that Amiri defected to the United States and is assisting the CIA in efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear program. Iran was subjected to fresh U.N. sanctions on Wednesday over its refusal to curtail its nuclear program, which the West claims is aimed at producing nuclear weapons but which Tehran says is only for peaceful purposes.

Larijani criticized the latest U.N. sanctions as being led by the United States and Britain, but said they shouldn't influence the case of the three Americans.

"The issue of detainees should be pursued on the humanitarian level and not be muddled with other issues," he said.

Larijani led his country's delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which on Thursday debated Iran's rights record. Critics, including the United States, other western countries and rights groups, said Iran has failed to fulfill its pledge to improve human rights after the violent crackdown on opposition activists after the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Larijani said Iran was negotiating so that the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, could visit next year.
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