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U.S. hikers' lawyer, families still hope Iran will show leniency

From Shirzad Bozorgmehr, CNN
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U.S. Hikers Sentenced
  • NEW: U.S. "deeply disappointed" over sentence against hikers, Clinton says
  • Families of hikers are getting through "most difficult" days
  • "I still hope for my clients to benefit from ... this holy month," lawyer says
  • Lawyer has 20 days to appeal their sentence
  • Another hiker, Sarah Shourd was freed in September for medical reasons

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- The lawyer and families of two American hikers are holding out hope that Tehran will show leniency toward the two men who have been sentenced to eight years in prison.

In their first statement since Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer's sentence was reported Saturday, the families appealed to Iran to "show compassion and allow them to return home to our families without delay."

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

Fattal and Bauer each received five years for espionage -- specifically "cooperating with the American intelligence service" -- and three years for illegal entry, state-run media said.

"I still hope for my clients to benefit from Islamic kindness and compassion in this holy month (of Ramadan)," said Masoud Shafiee, referring to the Muslim month of fasting.

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  • Iran
  • Shane Bauer
  • Josh Fattal
  • Sarah Shourd

There are nine days left in the month.

Shafiee has 20 days to appeal the sentence, and he said he will.

"I believe that they are innocent of the charges," he said.

The two men were not present when the Revolutionary Court handed down the sentence, Shafiee said.

Fattal, Bauer and 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 for medical reasons, but the two men remained imprisoned in Iran. Shourd's case remains open.

The 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.

"We are deeply disappointed that Iranian judicial authorities have sentenced Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal to 8 years in prison," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Sunday. "We continue to call and work for their immediate release -- it is time for them to return home and be reunited with their families. 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."

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, state-run 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.