Shane Bauer is one of three American hikers facing trial in Iran on spy charges.
Shane Bauer is one of three American hikers facing trial in Iran on spy charges.

Three young Americans facing trial in Iran will confront a legal system considerably different than that in their own country.

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were hiking in northern Iraq when they apparently strayed across the border into Iran.  They were arrested at the end of July by Iranian authorities and later accused of espionage.

Some of the rights and protections the three could take for granted in the United States will be missing in Iran.

The Iranian system is based on the French inquisitorial system, where the judge has great power and acts as prosecutor and jury.  Many judges are Muslim clerics.

Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, says the defendants will not have the presumption of innocence. “Unfortunately, in such cases, which they define them as ‘security related,’ there isn’t … that presumption,” Ghaemi said. 

Authorities in Iran have not released any information about the basis for the charges that will be brought against the three.

Ghaemi worries that the entire case may be based on coerced confessions following a long period of detention.

“The detainees are usually told by their interrogators that if they do not cooperate and accept charges and come up with false confessions to support those charges, then they will be staying in that state for a very lengthy period,” he said.

The Iranian system does allow for legal representation for the defendants, but the independence of the lawyers is in question.

Ghaemi says if the defendants’ families insist, they may be able to choose the lawyers.  But, “the authorities do put up obstacles in terms of people having independent lawyers,” he said.

“The judges that preside, especially in lower courts, have, in many cases, already made up their minds.”

Ghaemi also indicated if information is made public that casts doubt on the guilt of the defendants, it is possible to gain a favorable verdict.

All three Americans facing trial are graduates of the University of California at Berkley.

Shane Bauer, 27, is a Middle East-based freelance journalist and photographer, who had planned to cover an election in Iraq’s Kurdish region.  Sarah Shourd, 30, a teacher and writer, is Bauer’s girlfriend.  Josh Fattal, 27, is a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program.  

Iranian authorities have not yet announced a date for their trial.