Iranian officials are indicating two American hikers imprisoned in Tehran for more than a year on espionage charges will be put on trial next month.
After months of languishing in an Iranian prison, two American hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, accused of espionage after allegedly crossing the Iranian border are due to be tried on November 6, according to their lawyer. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail, last month.
Iran's official news agency IRNA says that Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi confirmed the trial of the American hikers would be held soon. "Whatever case we have against them," he said, "will be passed on to the judiciary.
The hiker's lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said well-known Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati will preside over the case. Salavati became a celebrity, last year, after the televised trials of opposition activists held for protesting against Iran's disputed presidential election.
Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran to release the two remaining hikers Fattal and Bauer on "humanitarian" grounds. Clinton insisted there is "no basis whatsoever" for putting the hikers on trial, and that it is "unfortunate" their ordeal has lasted so long.
The hikers were detained in July 2009 after allegedly entering Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, Iranian Parliament Vice President Seyed Mohamed Abuturab complained to Iranian TV that the United States is constantly accusing Iran of abusing human rights:
He says the U.S. accuses Iran of human-rights violations at various international forums, but the United States violates human rights in many cases.
University of Birmingham Professor Scott Lucas, who writes about Iran in the popular blog Enduring America, says the hikers have become part of a "wider political game" between the United States and Iran, centering around talks, and international prestige.
Lucas also thinks the case of the hikers has become part of an "internal struggle" in Iran, between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani. He points to the release of hiker Sarah Shourd as a gesture by Mr. Ahmadinejad to the United States, before his September trip to the United Nations.
Former French Ambassador to Tehran Francois Nicoullaud believes the hikers' ordeal is not yet over, and that Iran's judiciary system is being manipulated for political purposes:
"I believe that the judiciary process will probably produce a condemnation," said Francois Nicoullaud. "Knowing the system, I have little faith in the independence of the judicial system. What we can hope for is that this condemnation could be rather light and after that it is likely a period of negotiations will open in order to have the two remaining young Americans expelled from Iran. But, we have to prepare ourselves for not only a few weeks probably, but a few months of difficult times and anguish for the families."
In May, Tehran released French academic Clotilde Reiss, who was arrested and tried for espionage last year, in a similarly long and drawn out ordeal.