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US men 'sentenced to jail in Iran'

Two American men arrested more than two years ago while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border have been sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage and illegally entering Iran, state TV has reported.

The announcement appeared to dash hopes for the imminent release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after Iran's foreign minister suggested earlier this month that the trial could clear the way for their freedom.

It also could bring added tensions to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's expected visit to New York next month for the annual general assembly at the United Nations.

The Americans, whose final court hearing was three weeks ago, deny the charges and say they were only hiking in a scenic and largely peaceful area of northern Iraq near the porous border.

The two men were detained in July 2009 along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was released in September 2010 on 500,000 US dollar (£304,000) bail and returned to the United States.

Shourd's case "is still open", the website reported.

Bauer and Fattal, who are both 29, have been sentenced to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States, the website quoted "informed sources" at Iran's judiciary as saying. It was not immediately clear if that includes time served. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.

Their Iranian lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, said he has not been told about the verdict but will appeal the sentence if true.

The US government has appealed for the two men to be released, insisting they have done nothing wrong. The two countries have no direct diplomatic relations, so Washington has been relying on an interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to follow the case.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he hoped "the trial of the two American defendants who were detained for the crime of illegally entering Iran will finally lead to their freedom".


From Belfast Telegraph