Iran imprisons two US ‘spies’

By Khadija Patel 22 August 2011

Iranian courts have sentenced two American men to eight years in prison for illegally entering the country and unscrupulously spying on the Islamic republic for intelligence services in their home country. Naughty, naughty Americans. By KHADIJA PATEL.

They insist they were innocent hikers, ensnared by Tehran’s pernicious paranoia, but the Iranian courts disagree. Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, to eight years in prison each – three years for illegally entering Iran, and a further five years each for spying on behalf of the US intelligence services. Although the sentence is a tough one anywhere else in the world, in Iran where crimes of espionage carry the death penalty, the men could actually be seen to have come off lightly.

In July 2009, Bauer and Fattal along with their friend, Sarah Shourd, 33, all recent graduates of University of California Berkeley were arrested by Iranian security forces after they trudged across an unmarked border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Shourd was released last September on health grounds, and bail of $500,000.

American officials strongly deny the two men were spies, contending they had unwittingly crossed the unmarked border while hiking, after stepping off a dirt track near a waterfall. Iran, suspicious of anyone even remotely related to Uncle Sam, accused them of spying. A Tehran prosecutor found “compelling evidence” that the three US citizens had been cooperating with US intelligence agencies.

The men have now been in Iranian custody for two years and had hoped to be forgiven by the Iranian courts in a gesture of mercy in the Muslim month of Ramadan, but the Iranian judiciary was in an unforgiving mood.

With a number of US senators imploring President Barack Obama to escalate sanctions against Iran, further souring relations between these sworn enemies, some commentators speculate Iran is using the “hikers” as bargaining chips to force the US to release 10 Iranians in American custody. DM

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