TEHRAN, (Reuters) – U.S. citizens Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, detained in Iran for more than two years, have been convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in jail, Iranian state TV reported Saturday.
“In connection with illegal entry into Iranian territory each was given three years in jail and in connection with the charge of cooperating with American intelligence service, each was given five years in jail,” the IRINN website said, quoting an informed judiciary source.
Bauer and Fattal were arrested on July 31, 2009 near Iran’s border with Iraq, along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was freed on $500,000 bail in September 2010 and returned home.
The trio, in their late 20s and early 30s, say they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq and, if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.
The affair has compounded tension between Tehran and Washington, which have had no diplomatic relations since the storming of the U.S. embassy after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty at a closed-door court hearing on February 6 and had been awaiting a verdict following another trial hearing on July 31.
Their lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, told Reuters he had not been informed of the verdict. “I don’t know if this report is true or not, but this is not a light sentence,” he said.
In Iran, espionage can carry the death penalty but Shafiee had hoped that at worst his clients would be convicted of illegal entry and might then be freed due to the two years already served.
Media have speculated that the pair could be released as a goodwill gesture during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which is under way.