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Rights groups urge Iran: Free Americans

Rights groups urge Iran: Free Americans

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CAIRO, Egypt - International human rights groups urged Iran on Thursday to release four Iranian-American scholars and activists being held on suspicion of spying.

The call came as the United States repeated denials that the four are spies or employees of the U.S. government. State Department spokesman Tom Casey also said there had been no Iranian response to requests for access to the prisoners by Swiss diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Tehran.

Later Thursday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Iran, accusing Islamic authorities there of a "disturbing pattern" of harassment of Iranian-Americans.

The four detained scholars and activists are Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh with George Soros' Open Society Institute; journalist Parnaz Azima from the U.S.-funded Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist and founding board member at the University of California, Irvine's Center for Citizen Peacebuilding.

In a joint statement, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the International Federation for Human Rights and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi urged Iran to stop the "harassment of dual nationals."

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