This sentence in Iran can only be interpreted as the country throwing down the gauntlet to the Obama administration, saying in effect: “I dare you to try and do something about it.” Truly a sad and disgusting verdict — but in the end some believe they will not serve the full time:
Iranian authorities sentenced two Americans arrested and detained along the Iran-Iraq border to eight years in prison, state television cited an unnamed judicial source as saying on Saturday.
The men, who have already been held in prison for more than two years in Iran, have 20 days to appeal their convictions on charges of illegal entry onto Iranian territory and espionage.
Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, both 28 years old, were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border during what they insist was an ill-fated hiking trip in the scenic mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian officials allege that the two men were spies, but have yet to publicly present any evidence. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail last year and has been campaigning for her friends’ release. All three are Berkeley grads.
Their case was tried by a branch of the country’s politically charged Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases and has been accused of failing to abide by international or even Iranian standards of jurisprudence, especially when it comes to defendants’ rights.
Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and had been undertaking a yearlong visit to the Middle East at the time of their arrest.
In the Middle East, Bauer planned to spend time “absorbing on the ground whatever he could in the Arab world and offered to contribute stories to us,” Sandy Close, executive director of California-based New America Media, told CNN in 2009.
“I think this is a very experienced traveler, a backpack kind of traveler, not somebody who would go to the Ritz Carlton,” Close said of Bauer. “[He’s] somebody who would go to the hostel, who would operate on a shoestring, as many freelancers do.”
Bauer was planning to write a story about elections in Iraqi Kurdistan at the time when the trio went hiking near the Iranian border.
“I think he went to [Iraqi] Kurdistan to cover the elections … and [during a hike] unfortunately didn’t know the ground he was walking on well enough to avoid crossing over whatever boundary was there,” Close said.
A 2007 honors graduate in peace and conflict studies at Berkeley, Bauer is fluent in Arabic, Close said.
Though he knows Arabic and is comfortable with Arab culture, he doesn’t understand Farsi and therefore “would not have been able or, I think, interested in going [into Iran],” Close said.
Fattal graduated from Berkeley in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics and policy, the university said.
He shares his friends’ love of travel and learning, and was described as “fiercely intellectual” by his friend, Chris Foraker, who spoke to CNN affiliate KVAL in Eugene, Oregon in 2009.
Foraker said he met Fattal during a study abroad program in 2003, and the two worked together at the nonprofit Aprovecho sustainable living research center in Cottage Grove, Oregon.
“[Fattal] is a really great guy. We had a really good working relationship with him, and we love him a lot and hope to see him home safe soon,” said Aprovecho’s Jeremy Roth, who spoke to CNN affiliate KEZI in Eugene at the time of his arrest.
Rick Moran (a TMV favorite as a writer and occasional contributor) in the American Thinker:
Entirely predictable. And now we await the magnanimous gesture by the fanatics in Tehran of releasing these poor kids who have already spent two years in an Iranian prison…
Their lawyer didn’t even know the kids had been convicted. Some justice system.
Speculation is that the Iranian government will release the kids before the end of the month due to the observance of Ramadan. They are de facto hostages, of course, and because of that, I would expect that date to slip.
The Washington Post cites the website irinn.ir as saying the two were each sentenced to three years for illegal entry into Iran and five years for spying for the United States, again citing unnamed sources in Iran’s judiciary. It is not yet clear whether those sentences include the more than two years the two men have already served in Tehran’s Evin Prison; they were arrested on July 31, 2009.
Both charges are absurd. Eye witness testimony uncovered in our own reporting, corroborated by the account of Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiance, who was released last year, strongly indicate that the three friends, who had embarked on a hiking trip in the scenic mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, only crossed the border into Iran after being gestured off their hiking trail by armed guards. The spying charge is ludicrous, and Iran has never offered a shred of evidence for this claim. That’s because no such evidence exists.
Bauer and Fattal have 20 days to appeal the sentence. As the Washington Post editorialized earlier this month, as rumors were circulating of a possible compassionate release for Ramadan, “Promises of leniency by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the case have not been borne out….If the court finds them guilty on the charges of espionage, we hope they will be sentenced to time served and released.” The choice to release them now lies in Ahmadinejad’s hands.
Once again the unfeeling, brutality of international politics comes into play. There families must be in excruciating pain. Pain that will last ever day they are held there — whether it’s one day, a month or 8 years.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.