Tehran prosecutor confirms 8-year jail term for US hikers

21st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi on Sunday confirmed that Iran has sentenced two American hikers to eight years in prison each for illegal entry and espionage, local media reported.

"Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been each sentenced to eight years in jail by the branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court," ISNA quoted him as telling a news conference. He said the verdict can be appealed in 20 days.

Jafari Dolatabadi said charges of illegal entry and espionage against the American hikers had been "proven" in the court, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Five years for spying for the American intelligence services and three years for illegal entry into Iranian soil," he was quoted as saying by the Tehran-based Arabic Al-Alam television.

"The case of Sarah Shourd who has been freed on bail is still open," Jafari Dolatabadi added, referring to the other American who was arrested along with her fiance Bauer and Fattal on July 31, 2009.

The lawyer of the Americans confirmed the verdict but said he will appeal.

"I was just at the court and unfortunately the verdict is as announced by the prosecution," Masoud Shaffi told AFP on Sunday.

"In this period (20 days) I will use all the legal means at my disposal to reclaim their rights, because I believe that my clients are innocent," he said.

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 the United States said it said it was seeking to confirm the jail sentences.

"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," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

"Shane and Josh have been imprisoned too long, and it is time to reunite them with their families," she said.

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, told AFP that it has not received any official notification of the verdict.

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.

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 in 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 their lawyer.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on August 6 he hoped the trial of Bauer and Fattal would lead to their "freedom."

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.

© 2011 AFP

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