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17 April 2000, Volume 3, Number 15


The trial of 13 Jews accused of espionage on behalf of Israel and the U.S. opened on 13 April in Shiraz, Fars Province. Eight Muslims were arrested in the case, according to Iranian authorities, but they are not being tried and it is not known if they are imprisoned. The trial is being held in private because the case deals with national security issues, according to the Justice Department.

Four of the 13 confessed and asked for clemency, provincial judiciary chief Hussein Ali Amiri said after the first session. Defense attorney Esmail Nasseri, however, said that "We categorically deny that any confessions were made." Amiri did not say which four had confessed, but only four defendants appeared for the first session: Dani Teflin, Faramarz Kashi, Ramin Nematizadeh, and Shahrokh Paknahad.

The other defendants have been identified as Javid Ben Yaqub, Ramin Farzam, Farzad Kashi, Omid Teflin, Farhad Saleh, Nasser Lavihim, Asher Zadmehr, Navid Balazadeh, and Nejad Brokhimnejad. Defense attorneys complained that they had only a few days to prepare, but a 12 April statement from the Fars Justice Department said that several of the accused refused to select lawyers.

According to an unnamed judiciary source cited by London's "Al-Hayah" on 13 April, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, and Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi urged the court to hold a "fair" trial, an injunction that raises questions about the kinds of trials it normally conducts. Also, Iranian state radio's external English-language service reminded listeners on 13 April that the Jews' trial "has nothing to do with their religious beliefs."

"Sources acquainted with the case," claimed that "some of the defendants" had been to Israel and undergone "security and training courses on the use of advanced communications equipment for conveying military information," "Al-Hayah" reported. Both the U.S. and Israel have rejected such espionage charges and demanded the Jews be released.

Human rights organizations and Jewish community organizations are calling for them to be released, too, and they are urging governments and the international community to do the same. European governments that have promoted "critical engagement" with Iran, meanwhile, may feel added pressure, because executions or convictions would be another sign that their policy has failed to alter Iranian behavior. Great Britain said it was considering an "appropriate response," according to Reuters. Foreign Minister Robin Cook is expected to visit Iran soon.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a Senate subcommittee on 13 April that Washington is monitoring the situation. She added that "I am on the phone daily now with foreign ministers, because there is a resolution that we are sponsoring in Geneva that makes clear that the treatment of the Bahai and the Iranian Jews is unacceptable. This morning we got news that the trial has been postponed until 1 May. That is one possible step in the right direction, though some of the things we are still hearing about how the trial may be carried out are not acceptable."

The next court session is scheduled for 1 May. Whether this is to allow the Jewish prisoners to celebrate Passover or to avoid conflicts with Ashura commemorations is not clear. Tehran's Central Jewish Committee had requested a Passover furlough for the prisoners, Reuters reported on 4 April. (Bill Samii)

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