The trial in Iran of two U.S. citizens accused of espionage opened today after a delay in which the pair spent some 18 months in jail.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were detained on July 31, 2009 close to Iran's border with Iraq, along with a third American, Sarah Shourd.
The three insist they were hiking and crossed the unmarked border by mistake.
Shourd was released on $500,000 bail in September and has since returned to the United States. She is expected to be tried in absentia.
Although espionage can carry the death penalty, the trio's lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said he was upbeat about the chances for a non-guilty verdict.
"This espionage case has no ground and if the court decides on this and if [the defendants are convicted of espionage], I will make a complaint, and there is such a thing as a court of appeals," he said on February 5.
The three hikers are also accused of illegally entering Iran, a charge that Shafii said is punishable by 18 months to three years in prison.
The lawyer said he expects his clients to be released on that charge too, having already spent more than 18 months in jail. He said he does not expect the trial, initially set for November 6, to be delayed again.
Shafii said he has been denied access to the two Americans, held in Tehran's Evin jail, and has not seen them since Shourd's release.
"Despite my repeated requests," he said, "I have not received permission to see Shane or Josh. However, we have spoken to the judge who has arranged for me to have access to Shane and Josh one or two hours before the trial, which begins at 10am."
It is unclear whether the meeting took place.
Iran's IRNA state news agency reported that the Swiss ambassador to Iran, whose mission represents U.S. interests there, was barred from attending the closed-door trial.
Iran has dismissed Washington's repeated pleas for the release of Bauer and Fattal, although Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has suggested the pair could be exchanged against Iranians he says were wrongly jailed in the United States.
written by Claire Bigg, with agency reports