TEHRAN, Iran — The start of the trial of three Americans charged with spying on Iran has been postponed because one of them has not been summoned to return to the country to appear in court, Iran's judiciary spokesman said Monday.
Sarah Shourd was freed on bail in September after nearly 14 months in a Tehran prison and returned to the United States. Her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in prison. Their trial was expected to begin on Saturday.
The three Americans were reportedly hiking in July 2009 in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region near the Iranian border, when Iranian forces took them into custody and accused them of intentionally crossing over.
The initial accusation of illegal border crossing was later raised to espionage charges. The U.S. government says the three are innocent.
In announcing the postponement, spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said Shourd hasn't yet been legally summoned.
"Under this circumstances, the freed person (Shourd) needs to be summoned so that all three can stand trial," Ejehi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
Bauer and Fattal's families issued a statement saying they had heard nothing officially about a trial postponement. The statement said their children had done nothing wrong and they "continue to pray that Iran will release them on humanitarian grounds."
Earlier, Iran warned that it will seize the $500,000 bail posted by Shourd if she does not return for trial.
Shourd, who has not disclosed any plans to return to Iran, said in an interview published Sunday in The New York Times that the three stepped off an unmarked dirt road and inadvertently crossed from Iraq only because a border guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach.
Shourd, 32, told the newspaper from her home in Oakland, California, that she wanted to correct the gathering false impression, fueled by a classified U.S. military report made public by WikiLeaks, as well as earlier American and British news reports, that the trio was detained inside Iraq and forced across the border.
"We did not actually enter Iran until he gestured to us. We were confused and worried and wanted to go back," Shourd was quoted as saying.
In a separate case, Ejehi told IRNA that two Germans arrested in Iran in October while reportedly trying to interview the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning have asked the Iranian authorities for pardon.
Iran's general prosecutor has said the Germans admitted breaking the law by entering the country without proper visas. Iran says they arrived on tourist visa, while foreign reporters need a journalist visa to work here legally.
The stoning sentence against the 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, has raised an international outcry, embarrassing Iran. The arrest of the Germans – whom Tehran has accused of having links to Iranian exile groups – suggests how sensitive Iran is over the case.
The German Journalists' Association has said that the two – a reporter and a photographer – were interviewing Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, when they were arrested.
However, Ejehi said Monday the two Germans acknowledged they were not reporters. Their identities have not been released.