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Sun 7 Aug 2011 09:31 AM

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Iran foreign minister says hopes US ‘hikers’ will be freed

Americans have been in jail in Iran for more than 2 years after arrest on Iraq border

Iran foreign minister says hopes US ‘hikers’ will be freed
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi

Iran's foreign minister said on Saturday he hoped two
Americans jailed for more than a year on spying charges would be freed, the
most positive signal yet that their ordeal may soon end.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are awaiting a verdict from what
was supposed to have been the last day of their trial last Sunday. They pleaded
not guilty to spying charges after they were arrested on July 31, 2009 near
Iran's border with Iraq.

"The judicial case of these American nationals is
following its course. We hope their trial will advance in a way that would lead
to their freedom," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told a news
conference in Tehran, according to the students' news agency ISNA.

"We thank the judiciary for treating the issue with
justice and fairness. The people at the judiciary will communicate about this
issue at the appropriate time."

Along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was released
on bail in September and returned to the United States, Bauer and Fattal say
they were hiking in the mountains of Iraq and if they crossed the unmarked
border into Iran it was by mistake.

Their lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, said he expected a verdict
within a week of the hearing.

Spying can be punishable by death in Iran but Shafiee has
said there is no evidence against his clients and even if found guilty of
illegally entering Iran they should be freed due to time already served.

In an interview on the website freethehikers.org, Shourd
says she believes the case has become a "tug of war" between Iran and
the United States which have been enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution
which overthrew the US-backed shah.