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U.S. hikers in Iran get 8 years in prison, state media reports

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal were arrested while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border in 2009.
  • Defense attorney, Swiss Embassy can't yet confirm reports
  • Bauer and Fattal were seized two years ago
  • Another hiker, Sarah Shourd was freed in September for medical reasons
  • Human rights groups have accused Iran of using hikers as "a bargaining chip"

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- The two U.S. hikers detained for two grueling years in Iran on spying charges have been sentenced to eight years in prison, Iran's state-run TV reported Saturday.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer each received five years for espionage -- specifically "cooperating with the American intelligence service" -- and three years for illegal entry, IRINN reported, quoting an "informed" judiciary source.

They have 20 days to appeal their sentence, which was handed down by the Revolutionary Court, IRINN reported. Their defense attorney, Masoud Shafiei, couldn't confirm news reports of the sentencing.

Their families have made urgent appeals to free the men and created a website to muster support for their release. They could not be reached for comment on the reported sentences.

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  • Iran
  • Shane Bauer
  • Josh Fattal
  • Sarah Shourd

Fattal and Bauer and another person, Sarah Shourd, were seized on July 31, 2009 when they were hiking in the Iraqi Kurdish region and allegedly crossed into Iran illegally.

Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, was released last year because of medical reasons, but the two men remained imprisoned in Iran. Shourd's case remains open, IRINN reported.

United States and Iran, which don't have diplomatic relations, have been at odds over the Islamic republic's nuclear aspirations and Iran's ties to anti-American militants in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The hikers' case could exacerbate the hostilities during next month's U.N. General Assembly meeting. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made fiery and controversial speeches at the annual event and is expected to be there again this year.

The United States has repeatedly called for Fattal and Bauer's release. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials were working to confirm media reports of the sentences and trying to get more information with Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti, said the Iranian judiciary has not yet informed her of the prison sentences.

"We have repeatedly called for the release of Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, who have now been held in Iran's Evin prison for two years," Nuland said.

"Shane and Josh have been imprisoned too long, and it is time to reunite them with their families. As Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has said, 'We continue to express our hope that the Iranian authorities will exercise the humanitarian option of releasing these two young men.' "

World leaders, such as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have urged Iran to release the men.

Amnesty International noted that Bauer and Fattal have been granted one brief family visit when their mothers met with them in May 2010.

"They have been denied adequate access to their lawyer and have had very limited access to consular assistance," the human rights watchdog said last month.

"Iranian authorities have ignored repeated appeals from the international community and the men's families to release them and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hinted that the hikers were being held as a bargaining chip to be used in Iran's dealings with the United States."

Iranian police said the Americans illegally entered Iran. The Tehran Prosecutor's office has "compelling evidence" that the three were cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies, Press TV has reported.

Shourd has said the hikers did not know they had crossed the border while hiking. Fattal and Bauer pleaded not guilty to the charges. The three are graduates of the University of California at Berkeley.

Shafiei argued that his clients shouldn't be regarded as spies because they don't have the "characteristics and background of spies."

Shafiei had said the time the two have spent in Iranian custody is enough, even if the court reached a guilty verdict in a recent hearing.

Shourd was released in September and returned to the United States after 410 days of solitary confinement.

She remained a defendant in the case, but was not required to appear in court for a July 31 hearing.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report