Iran accuses Americans of spying

Three US citizens arrested in July after crossing into Iran from Iraq have been accused of spying, a judicial official has said.

The US government and the families of Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, say they were on a hiking holiday and crossed the Iranian border by mistake.

"The three are charged with espionage. Investigations continue into the three detained Americans in Iran," Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran general prosecutor, said on Monday.

Under Iranian law, espionage is punishable by death.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said that there was no reason to continue to detain the trio and urged Tehran to release them.

"We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever," she said during a visit to Berlin.

"And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home, and we will continue to make that case."

Diplomatic ties
The Iranian announcement came as Washington and its allies wait for Tehran's response to a deal over its nuclear programme under which it would send abroad low-enriched uranium.

Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, said: "They are talking directly, but only talking on the nuclear issue and only at a very low level.

"There are no diplomatic ties here and what the Americans have had to do to get to these three Americans is to go through the Swiss. The Swiss diplomats were able to visit them in Evin prison about a week ago."

Iran is also holding another American citizen, Kian Tajbakhsh, an academic who was arrested amid the mass protests over the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president. Last month he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his alleged role in the violence that followed the polls.

In January, Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist, was arrested in Tehran, and convicted of espionage. She was later released on appeal. [adm/aljazeera]

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