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Americans' lawyer barred from leaving Iran

Oct 3, 2011, 7:38 a.m.

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The defense lawyer for two Americans released by Iran after more than two years in jail on spying charges has been barred from leaving the country, a judiciary official told the ISNA news agency on Monday.

Masoud Shafie represented Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who were arrested on the Iraqi border in 2009 where they said they were hiking. Convicted of espionage in August and sentenced to eight years in prison, they were released two weeks ago and went home after Oman paid bail of $1 million.

ISNA quoted a judiciary official denying Western media reports that Shafie had been arrested after the Americans' release but confirming he had been banned from leaving Iran.

The official "postponed until later giving explanation about why he was barred from leaving the country," ISNA said.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a U.S.-based campaign group, quoted Shafie as saying security forces had taken him for questioning last week to Tehran's Evin Prison without an arrest warrant.

Shafie said security forces had also searched his home, seizing files, including some related to the Americans' case.

Reuters was unable to reach Shafie for comment.

The lawyer, who was only allowed to meet his clients during their few closed-door court hearings, said after their conviction: "It was my belief, and still is, that they are innocent and I have not seen any evidence that shows they are guilty."

With no diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution -- when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days until January 1981 --several countries worked to negotiate the hikers' release.

Fattal and Bauer were released the day before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York and appeared to be timed as a public relations boost.

But any goodwill Ahmadinejad earned among the U.S. public may have been tarnished by comments at a news conference in New York on Sept 25 where Fattal and Bauer said they considered that they had been hostages simply because they were American.

The two men said that during their 781 days in captivity, they had "experienced a taste of the Iranian regime's brutality".

Iranian officials rejected the comments, saying they were held as spies and not merely because of their nationality.

(Reporting by Ramin Mostafavi; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Shaimaa Fayed)

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