Bahai News - A Presumption of Guilt in Iran
Friday, April 28, 2000
A Presumption of Guilt in Iran
Thirteen Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel are scheduled to
go on trial in Shiraz on Monday, still unsure after more than a year in
custody precisely what they are alleged to have done. A Los Angeles
source in close touch with events in Iran says that their lawyers, only
recently chosen, have been given files that lack any specific charges or
evidence. In a case where the death penalty has been demanded by leading
clerics, the defendants and their lawyers thus face the Kafkaesque
nightmare of not knowing what they must be prepared to defend against.
The 13 are widely seen as pawns in the continuing power struggle
between moderates like President Mohammad Khatami, who, among other
things, wants to improve Iran's external relations, and conservatives
whose paramount interest is maintaining their pervasive and repressive
Iran's Jewish community has shrunk more than half, about 35,000, since
the Islamic revolution of 1979 and, given the regime's unremitting
hostility toward Israel, it is always closely monitored. That intense
scrutiny by itself makes it highly unlikely that any Iranian Jews would
have the inclination, or even the chance, to engage in espionage.
The case has drawn unusually wide international attention. Britain,
France, Germany, Japan, Canada, the European Union and even Russia, among
others, have joined the United States and Israel in expressing concerns
and issuing protests. France's Premier Lionel Jospin has abandoned the
usually circumscribed language of diplomacy and called the charges
against the 13 "totally fabricated."
In the past the regime has similarly accused members of another
religious minority, the Bahai--which the clerics consider a heretical
sect--of spying and sedition, and it has executed many of those its
Elections in Iran, first of Khatami three years ago and more recently
of a new legislature, have demonstrated overwhelming popular support for
an easing of strict theocratic rule and for more rational answers to
Iran's deepening economic problems.
The clerical response has been to crack down on press freedom--even
the paper run by Khatami's brother has been shut down--and use force to
break up demonstrations. The prosecution of the 13 Jews should similarly
be seen as essentially a coercive flexing of muscle.
The trial is scheduled to take place before a revolutionary court,
where proceedings are usually closed and almost always swiftly concluded.
Unless the trial is open to independent observers it won't be possible to
assess the validity of whatever evidence is presented, but certainly it
will be possible to doubt the credibility of the regime's prosecution.
For more than a year the atmosphere around the pending trial has been
made toxic by the conservative media and prominent Muslim clerics, who
already have proclaimed the guilt of the accused and demanded that they
be executed. Only an open trial would let the world weigh the fairness of
the proceedings and the verdict, if in fact fairness matters at all to
the Iranian authorities.
©Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times
Page last updated/revised 042800
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