Bahai News - Spy Charges Show Signs of Iranian Power Struggle
Spy Charges Show Signs of Iranian Power Struggle
By Patrick Goodenough
CNS Jerusalem Bureau Chief
08 June, 1999
Jerusalem (CNS) - Iran has charged 13 Jews with spying for Israel and
the United States, crimes punishable by death in the Islamic republic.
The move may be the latest wrangle in a power struggle between reformist
and extremist elements in the country, an Iranian specialist told CNS
Iranian radio reported that the suspects were living in a Jewish community
in the southern Fars province, and were accused of spying for the "Zionist
regime" and "World Arrogance," common references to Israel and the U.S.
The brief report said they had been charged following due interrogation and
Sources in the Jewish community say the arrests were made several weeks ago
in the city of Shiraz, and that those held included the chief rabbi of
Shiraz and students at a Jewish school there.
Prior to the radio report, Jewish groups in the U.S. and Europe asked their
governments to intercede on behalf of the Jews, once learning of the arrests.
The French embassy in Tehran has made inquiries.
In a move reflecting concern about worsening the Jews' plight, the Israeli
foreign ministry declined to comment.
A ministry source told CNS Tuesday the government preferred to leave
sensitive matters of this nature in the hands of Jewish organizations.
Dr Jamshid Hassani, an expert on the Iranian legal system, said the arrests
may be part of the latest "power play" between the supporters of the Iran's
spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and those backing the
popularly-elected President Mohammed Khatami, regarded a relative moderate.
Hassani said in an interview that both the legislative and judicial
branches of government were firmly controlled by the Khamenei old-guard,
as was the Islamic militia.
The arrests also "show the basic lack of freedom in the constitution of
the Islamic republic. I've studied many legal systems, and never seen
anything like this - a situation where people can be accused of anything by
those in power."
He dismissed the spying charges as "meaningless," saying it was not uncommon
for those considered "non-believers" - Jews, Christians, Baha'is and others
- to be the targets of trumped-up charges of espionage or drug trafficking,
whenever there were internal problems.
Since the 1979 revolution, Iranian authorities have executed at least 13
Jews, most of whom were sentenced to death for religious reasons or
connections with Israel, according to human rights monitoring groups.
In 1997, Iran hanged two Jews convicted of spying for the two countries.
Iranian Jews have also been charged in the past with attempting to help
Jews immigrate to Israel or the U.S.
In June 1998, a 60-year-old Jew was hanged, apparently for having ties to
Israel or, according to one report, for helping Jews fleeing Iran. The man
disappeared a month before his family was notified by the authorities that
he had been executed. No explanation was offered.
Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community is one of the world's oldest outside
of Israel, dating back to the First Temple period (6th century BCE),
according to the World Jewish Congress.
Discrimination after the Muslim conquest culminated in campaigns of
persecution and forced conversion during the 19th century, boosting support
for the emerging ideology of Zionism.
Jews played an important cultural and economic role in society during the
Phalavi dynasty. On the eve of the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew
the Shah, there were 60,000 Jews in the country. The majority left. The
remaining community enjoys limited religious freedom, living under constant
suspicion of cooperation with Israel and the U.S.
Iran sponsors Islamist organizations, some of which are working for the
violent overthrow of Israel.
©Copyright 1999, Conservative News Service
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