Nightly News | August 20, 2011
>>> there is news tonight about the fate of two american men arrested by iranian authorities in 2009 along its border with iraq. the men said they were innocent hikers. but a court has now ruled otherwise, sentencing them to eight years in prison for spying. nbc's ali aare youzi reports tonight from tehran.
>> reporter: shane bauer and josh fattal each received eight years in prison for espionage and entering the country illegally. the two men and their friend, sarah shourd, were arrested a little over two years ago along the iran /iraq border. sarah shourd was released on bail last september. she flew back to the u.s. and never returned to iran to face trial.
>> this could be the final --
>> reporter: she recently spoke with lester holt expressing hope that is her friends would soon be released.
>> that's what we're praying for. we're praying the time for compassion has finally come.
>> reporter: before today's sentencing, many thought bauer and fattal would be freed with time served . now friends were concerned about the toll a long prison term would take.
>> you are a pawn in a game that it's unclear what that game is. it has to be very tough.
>> reporter: the case has highlighted differences among the ruling elite in iran . it was only two weeks ago that iran 's foreign minister said he hoped bauer and fattal would be freed. today after the sentences were announced, the u.s. state department issued a statement saying -- we continue to express our hope that the iranian authorities will exercise the humanitarian option of releasing these two young men. observers believe the obama administration will continue its backdoor diplomacy to pressure tehran to free bauer and fattal.
>> if that doesn't succeed, there's going to be an impetus to exact some kind of price on the iranians for continuing to engage in this completely outrageous behavior.
>> reporter: at this point, a humanitarian option may be the best option for the two americans. it's the holy month of ramadan and traditionally, prisoners are pardoned at the end of it. which is ten days from now. lester, those i've spoken to and conventional wisdom seem to suggest that they will be freed. having said that, the relationship between these two countries is that iran isn't in the business of doing the u.s. any favors. they could be here for a long time.
>> thank you.