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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will issue verdicts soon on American hikers detained for more than two years on espionage charges, a judiciary official was quoted as saying on Monday, dimming hopes for their immediate release.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been awaiting a verdict since their trial ended last month. They pleaded not guilty to spying charges after they were arrested along with American Sarah Shourd in July 2009 near Iran's border with Iraq.
Shourd was released on bail in September 2010 and returned to the United States.
"Reviewing the case has ended and the final verdict will be issued soon," Prosecutor General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei was quoted as saying by the students' news agency ISNA.
When asked whether the two men would be released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on August 1, Mohseni-Ejei said he had not heard such "rumors," according to ISNA.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on August 6 he hoped the two Americans would be freed, in what was seen at the time as the most positive signal yet that their ordeal may soon end.
Their lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, had said he expected a verdict within a week of the final court 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 November, Iran's judiciary announced espionage charges against the three. Their families said they were hiking and had strayed across the border accidentally. Washington says the charges are totally unfounded and they should be released.
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. The two countries are now embroiled in a row over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at making atomic bombs. Tehran denies this.
(Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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