American Hikers Accused of Spying in Iran

An Iranian state news agency reported, three American hikers arrested in Iran this summer have been accused of spying.

The Tehran prosecutor told Iran’s official IRNA news agency that Iranian officials were pursuing espionage charges against the Americans, who were detained in late July after trekking through the Kurdistan region of Iraq and toward the Iranian border. News of the spying accusations drew a quick rebuke from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who reiterated calls for the Iranians to release the hikers, Shane M. Bauer of Emeryville, Calif.; Joshua F. Fattal of Cottage Grove, Ore.; and Sarah E. Shourd of Oakland, Calif.

“We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever,” she told reporters in Berlin, according to The Associated Press. “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,” The New York Times reports.

It was also reported, since Washington and Tehran broke off diplomatic relations following the seizure of the US embassy in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Switzerland has looked after US interests in Iran.

Family and friends of the three have said they were hiking in a mountainous border region in northern Iraq near a famous waterfall when they unintentionally strayed into Iran.

A friend of the trio, who would had travelled with them to Iraq for the hike and would have been with them at the time of their arrest but for a bout of illness, appealed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week to free them as soon as possible.

"Mr President, by continuing to deprive Shane, Sarah and Josh of their liberty, Iran is working against some of the very causes it supports," Shon Meckfessel wrote, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, Iran is also holding academic Kian Tajbakhsh, a dual US-Iran citizen, who was arrested shortly after the violence began and charged along with 140 senior reformist figures and activists with national security offenses aimed at toppling the regime. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail last month for activity related to the post-election protests.

Earlier this year dual US-Iranian citizen Roxana Saberi was arrested in Tehran, charged with espionage, and sentenced to eight years in prison. The sentence was reversed on appeal, and she was released to her parents in May, after more than three months in prison.

Analysts at the time said her arrest was a deliberate attempt by hard-line faction “spoilers” to derail President Barack Obama’s attempts at dialogue with Tehran, Christian Science Monitor reports.

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