UC hikers detained in Iran sentenced to eight years in prison

After more than two years of detention in Iranian prison, two UC Berkeley alumni were sentenced to eight years in prison Saturday, though supporters from throughout the world have stepped forward to declare their innocence and remain hopeful that they will be released.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were convicted Saturday of espionage and illegal entry into Iran after being seized in 2009 for crossing into the country while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border with Bauer’s fiance Sarah Shourd.

The two men each received five years imprisonment for espionage and three additional years for entering the country illegally. They have 20 days to file an appeal.

Throughout their detainment, supporters from around the world — including Noam Chomsky, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon — have expressed their support for the hikers and have now also expressed strong disappointment in their sentencing.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that it is “time for them to be reunited with their families” and that the government will continue to work for their release.

“I join President Obama and the people of the United States in expressing our unflagging support for Shane, Joshua, Sarah and their families during this difficult time,” she said in the statement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has also said he hopes the case will proceed in a manner that will result in Bauer and Fattal’s release, according to a statement from the families of the two hikers.

“We appeal to the authorities in Iran to show compassion and allow them to return home to our families without delay,” the statement reads.

The hikers’ sentencing puts another strain on the relationship between the United States and Iran, which over the years have been at odds over Iran’s alleged funding of terrorist groups and its pursuit of a nuclear program. The two countries do not maintain diplomatic relations.

Bauer, Fattal and Shourd were hiking in the Kurdistan province of Iraq — an area frequented by tourists — when an Iranian soldier saw them and gestured for them to step off of their hiking trail. He then pointed to the trail and said “Iraq” and pointed to the spot where they now stood and said “Iran,” indicating that they had unknowingly crossed the border.

“Of the 751 days of Shane and Josh’s imprisonment, yesterday and today have been the most difficult for our families,” the families’ statement reads. “Shane and Josh are innocent and have never posed any threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran, its government or its people.”

Bauer and Fattal were not formally charged until Shourd’s release in September 2010 and have appeared in court only one other time, on Feb. 6. Their last contact with their families was on May 22 — one of three phone calls they have been allowed to make.

The two men stood trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court July 31 after their hearing was delayed in May without explanation from Iranian authorities.

Family and friends of the two, as well as students and members of the Berkeley community, have continually advocated for their release and maintained that all three hikers are innocent.

“Shane and Josh are part of the Cal family, and I strongly feel that it is my responsibility to urge students to let the powers that be know that Shane and Josh belong at home with their families,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman.

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.