Iranians charge local hiker with espionage

Families say accusations against hikers untrue
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - November 9, 2009

Back in September, the brother of /*Joshua Fattal*/ one of three American hikers detained in Iran told Action News the family hoped that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would bring the trio with him when he visited the United Nations. That didn't happen. Fattal, along with Shane Bower and Sara Short, were arrested at the end of July.

Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi says the three "have been accused" and that investigations were continuing, according to the state news agency IRNA. He said an "opinion (on their case) will be given in the not distant future."

It is not clear from his comments Monday whether formal charges had been filed. In Iran's opaque judicial system, the process of charging and trial can often take place behind closed doors.

The three Americans were arrested July 31 after straying over the Iranian border from northern Iraq. The U.S. government and their families say there were on a hiking vacation and crossed accidentally.

The families of the hikers say the allegations are untrue and that their loved ones should be freed.

In a group statement released Monday, the families said the accusations are "entirely at odds" with the kind of people Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal are.

The Iranian government arrested the Americans on July 31 while hiking near the Iraqi border. Their families say the three accidentally strayed across the border from Iraq.

It's not clear if the three have been formally charged, but a senior Iraqi prosecutor has accused them of espionage. That's a signal that Tehran intends to put them on trial.

The families also asked the Iranian government to show compassion and release the three without delay.

Alex Fattal says he and his mother, of Elkins Park, Pa. say Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were detained after they strayed into Iran while hiking in Iraq in July. They attended the University of California, Berkeley.

Fattal's brother is praying for some encouraging news.

"We just want to hear his voice, we want to hear he's okay, want to know that he's sleeping, that he's eating. Want to know that he's being well treated. Ultimately we want him home as soon as possible," Alex Fattal said.

Josh's family maintains the hiking enthusiasts must have accidentally crossed the unmarked border while seeking a waterfall that's popular among western tourists.

On the Net: Hikers' families' Web site

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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