Iran Charges Three US Hikers With Espionage

Three American hikers taken into custody by Iranian guards near the border with Iraq on July 31 are facing charges of spying, Iran's judiciary said on Monday.

Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted by the IRNA news agency as saying the investigations were continuing against the three, Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, and that a statement on their fate would be made in the near future.

"The three Americans arrested near the border of Iran and Iraq are facing charges of spying and the inquiry is continuing," he said, AFP reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the release of the three. The announcement came as Washington and Tehran are maneuvering over a deadlock in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

"We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever," Clinton told reporters in Berlin. "And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them, so they can return home."

Clinton said the U.S. would continue to make that case through the Swiss channels who represent U.S. interests in Tehran, The Associated Press reports.

The spectacle of three American tourists on trial in Iran could add more strain to relations between Iran the United States at a time when the countries are engaged in fraught negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The United States has been pursuing the release of the hikers through Swiss diplomats who represent American interests in Tehran. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the 1979 takeover of its embassy in Tehran.

There was no immediate comment from family members or friends of the Americans.

Statements from family members and Kurdish authorities have said that the three travelers, all graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, had crossed from Turkey into Kurdistan, where they stayed at a hostel and camped as they headed toward Ahmed Awa, a resort area of caves and waterfalls on the border, New York Times reports.

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