Iran sentences 2 American men to 8 years in jail
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Two American men already held for two years in Tehran have been sentenced to 8 years each in prison on charges of espionage and illegal entry into Iran, state TV reported today.
The announcement appeared to dash hopes for the imminent release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after Iran's foreign minister suggested earlier this month that the trial could clear the way for their freedom.
The Americans deny the charges and say they were only hiking in a scenic and largely peaceful area of northern Iraq near the Iranian border.
The two men have been held since July 2009 after being taken into custody on the Iran-Iraq border. A third American who was taken with them, Sarah Shourd, was released in September 2010 on $500,000 bail and returned to the United States.
Shourd's case "is still open," the website irinn.ir reported.
Bauer and Fattal, who are both 28, have been sentenced to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States, the website quoted "informed sources" at Iran's judiciary as saying. It was not immediately clear if that includes time served. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
Their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has not been notified of the verdict but he will definitely appeal the sentence if true.
"I've not been notified of any verdict in the case of my clients," Shafiei told The Associated Press. "This is a strong verdict inconsistent with the charges."
The Americans say they mistakenly crossed into Iran when they stepped off a dirt road while hiking near a waterfall. While other parts of Iraq remain troubled by violence, the semiautonomous Kurdish north has drawn tourists in recent years, including foreigners.
The case has added to tensions between the United States and Iran that were already high over other issues, including Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
The U.S. government has appealed for the two men to be released, insisting that they have done nothing wrong. The two countries have no direct diplomatic relations, so Washington has been relying on an interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to follow the case.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he hoped "the trial of the two American defendants who were detained for the crime of illegally entering Iran will finally lead to their freedom." Their lawyer also had expressed hope they might receive a pardon for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Phone and email messages left for Sarah Shourd; Shane Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey; and the families' media representative, Samantha Topping, were not immediately returned.