TEHRAN, Iran -- Two American men arrested more than two years ago while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border have been sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges that include espionage, state TV reported Saturday, a sharp blow to hopes their release was imminent.
The announcement seemed to send a hard-line message from Iran's judiciary -- which answers directly to the ruling clerics -- weeks after the country's foreign minister suggested that the trial of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal could clear the way for their freedom.
Authorities did not immediately confirm the report and made no further comment -- although it was carried on Iran's highly controlled state media, frequently used to make high-profile announcements.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland restated U.S. appeals for their release. The Americans, whose final court hearing was three weeks ago, deny the charges, saying they were only hiking in a largely peaceful area of northern Iraq near the border.
They were detained in July 2009 along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was released in September 2010 on $500,000 bail and returned to the United States. Shourd's case "is still open," the state-run TV website irinn.ir reported.
Bauer and Fattal, both 29, have been sentenced to 3 years each for illegal entry into Iran and 5 years each for spying for the United States, the website quoted "informed sources" at Iran's judiciary as saying. It was not immediately clear if that includes time served. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
Their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has not been notified of the verdict but he would definitely appeal the sentence if true.