American hikers' saga shows the reason Iran gets no respect 

Iran’s ruling theocrats complain that their regime, which they say is the inheritor of Persian history and culture, doesn’t get the respect they believe it deserves. It’s true enough they don’t get much respect, and over the weekend this corrupt and arbitrary government gave the world another reason why that’s so.

After more than two years in confinement and only the briefest contact with their lawyer, 29-year-old Americans Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, after a quick, closed-door trial were convicted of espionage and illegal border crossing and sentenced to eight years in prison.

A third U.S. defendant, Sarah Shourd, was released earlier on $500,000 bond, which she will clearly forfeit rather than face the treatment handed out to Bauer and Fattal. Nonetheless, Tehran’s chief prosecutor says he will try her in absentia.

The two men are almost certainly not spies — the U.S. government formally and repeatedly has denied that they are. U.S. officials also contend the pair did not even cross the poorly marked border while hiking in Kurdish Iraq, but simply have been bagged by overzealous Iranian border guards.

Their lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, said he will appeal the verdict.

“It was my belief, and still is, that they are innocent and I have not seen any evidence that shows they are guilty,” he said.

Their families’ hopes were briefly raised when Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the trial “will finally lead to their freedom.” Moreover, the current holy month of Ramadan is a traditional time for pardons.

But Iran’s government is deeply divided between hard-liners and moderates, and the ultimate say on the verdict surely came from the ultimate hard-liner, Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In March 2009, two young American TV journalists daringly and foolishly ventured a short distance into North Korea and were quickly apprehended. That June, they were convicted and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

That August, after a formal apology from the U.S. and a personal appeal by former President Bill Clinton, the two young women were pardoned and sent home.

Any regime that can make North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il look reasonable and compassionate has much deeper problems than a simple lack of respect.

Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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