Iran sentences US hikers to eight years in jail for spying
Two 28 year-old American men (pictured) captured by Iranian forces while hiking near the Iraq-Iran border in July 2009 have each been sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of espionage and illegal entry, Iranian state TV reported on Saturday.
AFP - Iran has sentenced two American hikers to eight years in prison for illegal entry and spying for a US intelligence agency, state television said on Saturday quoting an informed judiciary source.
"Shane Bauer ... and ... Josh Fattal, the two detained American citizens, have been each sentenced to three years in prison for illegal entry to the Islamic Republic of Iran," the television reported on its website.
It also said the two have been "sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage for the American intelligence agency," without saying when the verdict had been reached.
"The case of Sarah Shourd, who has been freed on bail is still open," the report said, referring to the third hiker, who is being tried in absentia.
The verdict is expected to further raise tension between Washington and Tehran at a time when the animosity between the two has deepened under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Washington has vehemently denied Tehran's charge that the three were spies and has called on the Islamic republic to release Bauer and Fattal.
On Saturday it said it said it was seeking to confirm the latest report.
"We are working to confirm these reports and are in contact with the Swiss Protecting Power to obtain more information," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
"We have repeatedly called for the release of Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, who have now been held in Iran's Evin prison for two years," she added.
"Shane and Josh have been imprisoned too long, and it is time to reunite them with their families."
A spokesman for the families of the two men declined to comment on the reported sentencing.
The Swiss embassy, which handles US interests in Iran since diplomatic relations were severed in 1980, said it was not in a position to confirm the report.
According to the state television website, the two men have 20 days to appeal against the verdict.
The lawyer for the three Americans, Masoud Shafii, told AFP he had not been informed of any decision since their trial ended on July 31.
"Unfortunately, I have not been informed of the verdict officially or unofficially," he said adding that should the two be sentenced. "Naturally, since I truly believe in (my clients') innocence, I will use every opportunity to prove that they are innocent."
The last hearing in the case was held behind closed doors without the presence of Shourd who is being tried in absentia. She returned to the United States when she was freed on humanitarian and medical grounds in September, paying bail of around 500,000 dollars.
Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were arrested along with Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009, with the trio claiming they were hiking in Iraq's northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently strayed into the Islamic republic.
They pleaded not guilty to spying charges, according to Shafii.
Shafii had repeatedly expressed hope for the release of his clients after Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on August 6 he hoped the trial of Bauer and Fattal would lead to their "freedom."
Salehi also said the judiciary would announce the verdict in due course for the case which he added "is being pursued with justice and fairness."
The Saturday report comes after Iran's Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie said Monday that the verdict of the trial would be issued "soon."
When asked whether there was a possibility of pardoning the three during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends late August, he said he had "not heard such a rumour."
After the final hearing in the trial, the families of the detained Americans called for clemency in a statement urging Iranian authorities to show "compassion" to the two men.
Shourd, a teacher, writer and women's rights activist, met Bauer, a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist, while helping to organise demonstrations in the US against the war in Iraq. The two moved to Damascus together in 2008.
Fattal, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is an environmentalist and teacher. He travelled in 2009 to Damascus, where he met Shourd and Bauer.