Tehran prosecutor confirms 8-year jail term for US hikers

Tehran's chief prosecutor confirmed on Sunday eight-year jail sentences for two Americans arrested more than two years ago on spying charges.

Tehran's prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi on Sunday confirmed that Iran has sentenced two American hikers to eight years in prison each, the ISNA news agency reported.

 "Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been each sentenced to eight years in jail by the branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court," ISNA quoted him as telling a news conference. He said the verdict can be appealed in 20 days.

 On Saturday state television quoted an informed judiciary source as saying that the pair had been sentenced to eight years in prison for illegal entry and spying for a US intelligence agency.

 "The case of Sarah Shourd who has been freed on bail is still open," Jafari Dolatabadi added, referring to the other American who was arrested along with her fiance Bauer and Fattal on July 31, 2009.

 The informed source said that the pair "have been each sentenced to three years in prison for illegal entry to the Islamic Republic of Iran... (and) sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage for the American intelligence agency," without saying when the verdict had been reached.

 Washington has vehemently denied Tehran's charge that the three were spies and has called on the Islamic republic to release Bauer and Fattal.

 On Saturday the United States said it said it was seeking to confirm the latest report.

 "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," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

 "Shane and Josh have been imprisoned too long, and it is time to reunite them with their families," she said.

 A spokesman for the families of the two men declined to comment on the reported sentencing.

 The verdict is expected to further raise tension between Washington and Tehran at a time when the animosity between the two has deepened under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

 The last hearing in the case was held behind closed doors without the presence of Shourd who is being tried in absentia. She returned to the United States when she was freed on humanitarian and medical grounds in September, paying bail of around 500,000 dollars.

 Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were arrested along with Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq in 2009, with the trio claiming they were hiking in Iraq's northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently strayed into the Islamic republic.

 They pleaded not guilty to spying charges, according to their lawyer Masoud Shafii.

 Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on August 6 he hoped the trial of Bauer and Fattal would lead to their "freedom." Shourd, a teacher, writer and women's rights activist, met Bauer, a fluent Arabic-speaking freelance journalist, while helping to organise demonstrations in the US against the war in Iraq. The two moved to Damascus together in 2008.

 Fattal, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is an environmentalist and teacher. He travelled in 2009 to Damascus, where he met Shourd and Bauer.