Families React as Iran Sentences U.S. Hikers to Eight Years

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Americans Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, as well as their families back home, have already endured two difficult years

Leigh Aug 22 p.jpg

Sarah Shourd, center, stands with Cindy Hickey, mother of Shane Bauer, left, and Laura Fattal, mother of Josh Fattal during a 2010 news conference. Stephen Chernin / AP

The day after U.S. hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were sentenced to eight years hard time in Iranian prison, their devastated families were laying low -- and planning to support the boys' Iranian lawyer, Massoud Shafei, as he prepared their appeal.

"Of the 751 days of Shane and Josh's imprisonment, yesterday and today have been the most difficult," they said in a joint statement. Their sons, both 29, "are innocent and have never posed any threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran, its government or its people."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "disappointment" that the men had not been freed. The conviction, on charges of illegal entry and espionage, dashed hopes raised earlier this month, when an Iranian official said he thought the conclusion of the trial -- which came after Bauer and Fattal had already served two years behind bars -- could lead to their immediate freedom. "We are encouraged that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said he hopes the case will proceed in a manner that will result in Shane and Josh's freedom. We appeal to the authorities in Iran to show compassion and allow them to return home to our families without delay," the families said at the time. Shafei had speculated that they could be set free as a goodwill gesture during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year falls in August.

During their incarceration, Bauer, of Minnestota, and Fattal, of Pennsylvania, have been allowed just two short phone calls home -- one after a lengthy hunger strike. The men -- along with former fellow prisoner Sarah Shourd, 31, who was released in October on humanitarian grounds and $500,000 bail -- also received a visit from their mothers last May. Shourd has expressed fear that her companions are in physical danger at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. They are kept locked in a 10-by-14 foot cell 23 hours a day, with brief, daily excursions to an exercise pen. The families have also expressed "deep" concern for their psychological health, especially after Shourd revealed that she has been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and that Bauer had been beaten by a prison guard.

Bauer is a freelance journalist who speaks fluent Arabic and has written for the Christian Science Monitor and The Nation. Fattal is an environmentalist. The UC Berkeley grads have maintained that they were innocently hiking in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan when they accidentally strayed across and unmarked border with Iran, claims that have been backed by both Clinton and President Obama.

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Karen Leigh is a Berlin-based journalist, writing for Time and other publications. She previously covered Africa, India, the Arab Spring, and the 2008 presidential campaigns.

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