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Iran Charges Three Detained Americans With Espionage


Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans being held in Iran
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has charged three detained U.S. citizens with espionage, the official IRNA news agency has quoted a judiciary official as saying.

"The three are charged with espionage. Investigations continue into the three detained Americans in Iran," Tehran General Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said.

The three were held after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July.

"We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a visit to Berlin.

The three -- Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 -- crossed into Iranian territory nearly two months ago.

Their families say they strayed across the border accidentally. In a press release on November 9, the families of the three hikers rejected the allegations of espionage and called on Iran to show compassion to the detainees.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview with the American television network NBC in September that the Americans' release might be linked to the release of Iranian diplomats he said were being held by U.S. troops in Iraq.

Under Iran's Islamic sharia law, espionage is punishable by death.

Strong Messages

The United States has sent strong messages to Iran urging the release of the three hikers, calling Iranian authorities to exercise compassion toward the three Americans.

Some Iranian authorities have linked the illegal entry of the Americans, to unrest that erupted after Iran's June presidential election.

Ahmadinejad's reelection on June 12 sparked Iran's worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Authorities deny vote-rigging and portrayed the unrest as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state.

Dolatabadi said the case of a Danish student, detained during a rally on November 4 to mark the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, was under investigation.

"This accused Danish citizen has introduced himself as a reporter but he holds no official press accreditation. Investigations about him continue," he said. "Today, the Danish Embassy lawyer was allowed to meet the prisoner."

Police clashed with supporters of Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi in Tehran on November 4 when they used the anti-U.S. rallies to revive protests against the clerical establishment after June's vote.