TEHRAN: The lawyer for two Americans convicted of spying in Iran said Sunday he would appeal their eight-year sentence, which shocked their families who had hoped to see them freed after more than two years already spent in Tehran’s most notorious jail.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested on the border with Iraq in 2009 where they said they were hiking. They were found guilty of illegal entry and espionage, a verdict likely to further strain Iran’s already-poor relations with Washington.
“We have 20 days to appeal and I will try my best to use all legal means to annul the sentence,” said their lawyer, Masoud Shafiee.
“It was my belief, and still is, that they are innocent and I have not seen evidence that shows they are guilty.”
Bauer, 28, and Fattal, 29, share a cell in Tehran’s Evin prison. They had pleaded not guilty to the charges at their closed-door trial which ended July 31.
“Josh and Shane were informed about the verdict yesterday,” Shafiee said. The two years they had already served would count toward their eight-year sentences, he added.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep disappointment at the sentences. “We continue to call and work for their immediate release – it is time for them to return home and be reunited with their families,” she said.
The families of Bauer and Fattal made a similar plea. “We appeal to the authorities in Iran to show compassion and allow them to return home to our families without delay,” they said.
They were was arrested on July 31, 2009, near Iran’s border with Iraq, along with Bauer’s girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, 32, who was released on $500,000 bail in September and returned home to California where she has been campaigning for their freedom.
Confirming a leaked report of the sentence, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told a news conference that no verdict had yet been passed on Shourd, who did not return to Iran to stand trial.
The “hikers” affair has heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which cut diplomatic ties after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A Facebook page called “Free the Hikers” brimmed with comments expressing shock and disgust at the ruling, and offering prayers for the jailed men.
According to the Facebook page, Fattal was visiting Bauer and Shourd in the Syrian capital Damascus, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist, when they decided to hike in the mountains of neighboring Iraq.
If they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake, they have said.
Their trial took place behind closed doors and the evidence against them has not been made public.
Media speculated that Bauer and Fattal could be freed as a goodwill gesture during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Aug. 1 and will end toward the end of this week on a day that has yet to be announced by religious authorities.
Previously, Iranian officials had suggested the Americans might be swapped for Iranians jailed in the U.S., an option rejected by Clinton.
The semi-official Fars news agency reported that the family of an Iranian woman whose detention in the United States has been highlighted by some media as an example of unfair U.S. treatment of Iranians will fly to visit her Wednesday.
Shahrazad Mir Gholikhan, was sentenced in March 2009 to more than five years in prison for brokering a deal to send night-vision goggles to Iran in violation of a U.S. embargo.