Two U.S. Hikers Get Lost in Iran, Receive Eight Years in Prison

Berkeley graduates sentenced in seemingly baffling miscarriage of justice

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Two young American Berkeley graduates, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, both 28 years old, who were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border two years ago. They maintained that they had merely been hiking along the mountains, had gotten lost, and would up in Iran. They have been in custody in Iran since. (A third student who was with them at the time, Sarah Shourd, was allowed to leave after paying $500,000 in bail, according to Reuters.) Now, Iranian state television reports that Bauer and Fattal have been sentenced to eight years in Iranian prison for spying. These facts as they stand, to put it mildly, give rise to more questions than answers.

Did they really just get lost? The eight year prison sentence is comprised of two parts, Al-Jazeera reports. Both Bauer and Fattal "have been each sentenced to three years in prison for illegal entry to the Islamic Republic of Iran" and then separately "sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage for the American intelligence agency." For such a separate, serious charge, what evidence are they citing? According to the Los Angeles Times: none. "Iranian officials allege that the two men were spies, but have yet to publicly present any evidence." President Obama has denied that the Americans had any link to American intelligence, Reuters reports. And Al-Jazeera adds that they had plead not guilty to spying charges, even saying that they crossed into the unmarked Iran border by mistake.

How is this legal? The details of the conviction are sketchy -- and remain unconfirmed -- as the reports are only attributed to an Iranian judiciary official. Perplexingly, the men’s lawyer, Masoud Shafiee, said he had not been informed of the verdict, indeed had not heard of any decision since the trial ended on July 31. “I don’t know if this report is true or not, but this is not a light sentence,” he said, according to Reuters.  Espionage can carry the death penalty in Iran, but Shafiee was hoping the men would be released for time already served. However, their case was tried by a branch of the country's politically charged Revolutionary Court, which, according to the LA Times, "has been accused of failing to abide by international or even Iranian standards of jurisprudence, especially when it comes to defendants' rights."

Is this final? Apparently there are 20 days to appeal this sentence. A professor of Political Science at Tehran University told Al Jazeera: "there is a possibility; there is a chance that the appeal court may actually quash the sentence," although most are not optimistic.

What is being done? The state department is looking to confirm the sentencing through the Swiss embassy, which represents American interests in Iran, and has again called for their release. Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar reports that: "Top US officials say that they are very concerned because they have no access to the prisoners, and they have no recent assessment of their mental health and their physical health. They don't know what conditions they're being kept in. As you know, the US and Iran don't have any type of relations."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.