Shane Bauer, Minnesota journalist, sentenced to eight years in Iranian prison

Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Frattal confer with their lawyer.

Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Frattal confer with their lawyer.

Two Americans, including Minnesota native Shane Bauer, have been sentenced to eight years in prison for "spying" on Iran.

Bauer, a freelance journalist and photographer who grew up in Onamia and was living in Syria, and Josh Fattal, a college friend visiting Bauer, were arrested in July 2009 along with  Sara Shourd, Bauer's girlfriend. Shourd was freed on bail last year, and did not return for the trial.

Supporters for the hikers say they had meant to travel through Iraqi Kurdistan, and if they crossed into Iran at all, it was accidental.

Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar say they will continue to work to secure Bauer's and Frattal's safe release.


So secretive is Iran that Bauer's family, and even the U.S. State Department, at first had trouble confirming the sentence. The U.S. does not have official contact with the Iranian government, and has been forced to learn about and negotiate on the hikers' behalf through the Swiss Protecting Power, which represents the U.S. diplomatically in Tehran.

Shane Bauer, seen here in a self-portrait, is a freelance journalist and photographer.

Shane Bauer, seen here in a self-portrait, is a freelance journalist and photographer.

Klobuchar told MPR that she'd written a letter to the Swiss ambassador to Iran, and said advocates for the hikers had tried "any channel that we can" to get through to Iranian authorities. Klobuchar also said she'd spoken with Bauer's mother, Pine City resident Cindy Hickey.

"I pledged to her to do anything I can," Klobuchar said, "and mostly the two of us talked about how we can best get the word out, and get [Iran] to show some compassion."

Klobuchar and Franken have introduced a resolution in the Senate that calls for the hikers' release, and sent letters to President Obama on the issue. After the announcement of the sentencing, Franken released a statement that the senators would continue their efforts.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families, and I will continue to remain in close communication with Shane Bauer's family, who have been so strong throughout this difficult ordeal. We will continue doing everything possible to see Shane and Josh released and reunited with their families." 

In the past, pleas for clemency and compassion from Iran have fallen on deaf ears, despite the human rights heavyweights that have weighed in: International figures such as Noam Chomsky and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have both lobbied for the Iranians to release Bauer and Fattal, but to no avail.

The two men were both former students at the University of California, as was Sarah Shourd, Bauer's girlfriend, who was also arrested in 2009. Shourd was released on humanitarian grounds on September, after a $500,000 bail was posted, and she refused to return for the trial. Iranian state television said the case against Shourd is not closed.

Bauer, a fluent Arabic speaker, has reported and shot photographs in Syria, Iraq, Darfur and Yemen, among other places. At the time of the arrests, he was attempting to cover the Kurdistan elections as a freelancer.

Evin Prison, where Bauer and Fattal have been detained, houses many of the country's most well-known political and religious prisoners, and has also held foreign journalists and activists. Evin has been the site of rumored incidents of rape and torture of prisoners.

The two years Bauer and Fattal have already been detained will count against their eight year sentence, according to Reuters.

Franken and Klobuchar are not alone on the case: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that the United States was calling for the "immediate release" of Bauer and Fattal. "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," Clinton said.