Iran to put three detained U.S. hikers on trial, official says

Three Americans arrested while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border last summer will soon be put on trial, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said, accusing them of “dubious intent.”

U.S. citizens Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, all living in or visiting the Middle East, were arrested July 31 during what friends and family describe as a travel adventure in the picturesque mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, which abuts Iran.

A friend who was with them said they may have accidentally strayed across the Iranian border. They have been held as prisoners inside Iran for months, with limited access to their families.

Mottaki said the three were being processed by the country’s law enforcement and judiciary apparatuses.

“The interrogation of and the judicial process against the three U.S. nationals, who entered Iran illegally with dubious intent, are still ongoing,” he said in comments broadcast on state television during a meeting with his Azeri region counterpart. “They will be put on trial by the Iranian judicial system, and the necessary judicial rulings will be issued against them.”

Iran’s security forces have remained on high alert amid continued unrest concerning the country’s disputed June 12 presidential elections.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dowlatabadi said today that an unspecified number of Iranians had been identified and arrested for allegedly desecrating photographs of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, Ali Khamenei, during Dec. 7 protest rallies.

“Since the investigations are still ongoing, we will announce the exact number after an indictment bill is issued,” Jafari-Dowlatabadi told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

“At the moment, we are sure that there are some people who are accused over this case,” he said. “They have made some confessions too.”

Images of the acts, widely distributed on the Internet and broadcast on state television, have angered Iranian hard-liners. Protesters opposed to the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have denied the accusations, alleging the footage was staged to discredit their cause.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.