U.S. Hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal's Families Appeal to Iran to 'Show Compassion'

VIDEO: Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal face eight-year prison sentences.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH American Hikers Sentenced in Iran

The families of U.S. hikers sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges of spying and illegal entry in Iran are appealing to the Iranian authorities to "show compassion" and "allow them to return home" without delay.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been detained in Iran for the past two years. Along with Sarah Shourd, Fattal and Bauer were arrested in July 2009. They were taken into custody after they crossed the border into Iranian territory.

They denied the Iranian charges of spying and insisted they were only hiking, not spying, in a scenic area of northern Iraq and mistakenly crossed the Iranian border.

Bauer and Fattal's families today issued a statement after receiving confirmation of their sentence, which was first reported by Iranian state television.

"Of the 751 days of Shane and Josh's imprisonment, yesterday and today have been the most difficult for our families. Shane and Josh are innocent and have never posed any threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran, its government or its people," the statement said.

"We are encouraged that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said he hopes the case will proceed in a manner that will result in Shane and Josh's freedom," the statement said. "We appeal to the authorities in Iran to show compassion and allow them to return home to our families without delay. We also ask everyone around the world who trusts in the benevolence of the Iranian people and their leaders to join us in praying that Shane and Josh will now be released."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran should release the hikers.

"It is time for them to return home and be reunited with their families," she said.

Fattal and Bauer were each sentenced to five years for espionage and three years for illegally entering the country, according to Iranian state TV.

Shourd was forced to leave her two friends behind when she was released last September after being held captive for more than 400 days, but Bauer and Fattal remained in Iran's Evin Prison.

Shourd was released so she could be treated for a lump in her breast.

Fattal and Bauer have already spent two years in jail. They are expected to have 20 days to appeal the sentence.

However, it's unclear whether they will actually serve that time.

Journalist Roxana Saberi was also sentenced to eight years before her sentence was reduced to two years suspended sentence and she was allowed to leave the country.

Some Mideast experts think Iran will eventually free the hikers.

"They will hand down this tough sentence to show that they've been tough against these foreigners and that kind of thing but within a few weeks or a few months they would commute the sentence," said Stephen Zunes, a politics and international studies professor at the University of San Francisco.

Fattal, Bauer and Shourd have been friends since their days at the University of California, Berkeley. Bauer had proposed to Shourd in jail.

Last month, Shourd rallied with the Fattal and Bauer families outside the Iranian mission in New York City, hoping to convince the Iranian government to set them free.

"Shane and Josh are two innocent men, two compassionate, beautiful people," Shourd said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be standing here today."

ABC News Radio's Linda Albin, David Kerley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.