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Iran Sets February Trial Date for US Hikers


American hikers Shane Bauer, left, Josh Fattal, center, and Sarah Shourd stand prior to meeting with their mothers at the Esteghlal hotel in Tehran, 21 May 2010

American hikers Shane Bauer, left, Josh Fattal, center, and Sarah Shourd stand prior to meeting with their mothers at the Esteghlal hotel in Tehran, 21 May 2010

The lawyer for three U.S. citizens facing espionage charges in Iran says a new trial date has been set for February 6, but the judge has refused to allow him to meet with his clients to prepare a defense.

Masoud Shafiei, the lawyer for Americans Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, said he received official notification Sunday informing him of the new court date. Shafiei said he is "very disappointed" by the delay.

He told the Associated Press the judge turned down his request to meet with Bauer and Fattal, both 28, saying he would see them "on the day of the trial."

Court proceedings were to have started on November 6. Iranian authorities have said they delayed the trial because Shourd, who was released on $500,000 bail in September and allowed to return to the U.S., had not been summoned back to the country to appear in court.

Iran says it freed Shourd as a humanitarian gesture because of unspecified health concerns, though she has since said her health is fine. Iranian prosecutors have warned they will seize the bail posted for Shourd's release if she does not return for trial.

The 32-year-old, who spent more than a year in Iranian custody, told VOA's Persian News Network earlier this month that she is "thinking very hard" about whether she could return to Iran for a future trial.

Iranian authorities arrested the three hikers last year for allegedly entering the country unlawfully from Iraq. Iran later upgraded the charges to spying but authorities have given few details to support the accusations.

Shourd told The New York Times in an October 31 interview that she and the other two Americans were on a path in Iraqi Kurdistan last year when a border guard gestured for them to approach. She says when they reached the guard, he pointed to the ground and said "Iran," and then pointed to the path they had come from and said "Iraq."

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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