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Iran summons US woman for Feb. spy trial

Sarah Shourd was freed on bail from prison in Iran last fall; her fiancé and friend remain in custody on espionage charges. Sarah Shourd was freed on bail from prison in Iran last fall; her fiancé and friend remain in custody on espionage charges.
By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press / February 1, 2011

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TEHRAN — Iran has summoned an American woman to return to the country and stand trial on Feb. 6 along with two other Americans still in custody and accused of spying after crossing the border from Iraq, a judiciary spokesman said yesterday.

Their families say the Americans were just intrepid travelers out on a hike in northern Iraq’s scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region when they were arrested on July 31, 2009. The only woman among them, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail in September and returned to the United States.

The US government has denied the charges against them and demanded their release. Their lengthy detention has added to tensions between the two nations over such issues as Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

After her release, Shourd said the three inadvertently crossed the unmarked border because a guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach.

A Revolutionary Court in Tehran has summoned Shourd to return and stand trial, said a judiciary spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, in remarks carried on the state news agency, IRNA.

Her fiancé, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in prison in Iran.

Shourd, from Oakland, Calif., has not disclosed any plans to return for trial. She did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment yesterday. Samantha Topping, a publicist for the Americans’ families, said they were aware of the reports but had no plans for immediate comment.

Iran has warned it will seize the $500,000 bail if she does not return. Who provided the bail money that was paid as part of a deal brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman has never been clear.

Ejehi, who is also Iran’s state prosecutor, said the trial date, already postponed before, could be delayed again if the lawyer for the defendants requests more time.

Initially, Tehran accused the three Americans only of illegally crossing into Iran, but later added espionage charges. Authorities have given few details to support the accusations.

Tehran’s chief prosecutor has asserted, without elaborating, that the Americans had “equipment and documents and received training.’’

Yesterday, eight international figures, including actor Sean Penn, American academic Noam Chomsky, and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, issued an appeal for Iran to release the two men.

“The time for Shane and Josh’s freedom is overdue and we implore you to allow them to go free and return to their families,’’ the statement said.

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