Bahai News - Ten Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel, three acquitted

Ten Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel, three acquitted

AFSHIN VALINEJAD


SHIRAZ, Iran (AP) - Ten Iranian Jews were convicted Saturday of spying for Israel and sentenced to prison terms of four to 13 years, while three others were acquitted, the leading defense lawyer said.

Israel, which denied the accused were its agents, protested the verdicts and sentences, as did Jewish groups in the United States. Relatives of the accused - who arrived at the courthouse in Shiraz on foot because of the Jewish Sabbath - howled in anguish. One family member fainted.

In Washington, President Clinton said he was deeply concerned by the convictions and noted that the United States Human Rights Commission has denounced the judicial process by which the 13 Iranian Jews were tried as "seriously flawed."

"We have raised our concerns time and again, when the Iranian government has treated intellectuals, journalists, Muslim clerics and members of the Baha'i community with the same fundamental unfairness," Clinton said. "We are deeply disappointed that the Iranian government has again failed to act as a society based on the rule of law, to which the Iranian people aspire."

Dani Tefilin, a shoe salesman, and Asher Zadmehr, a university language professor, received the 13-year sentences, said defense lawyer Esmail Naseri. Ramin Nematizadeh, a shoe clerk, received the shortest jail term, Naseri said.

Of the seven others, civil servant Nasser Levihaim was sentenced to 11 years; store clerk Ramin Farzam 10; shopkeeper Javid Bent-Yacoub nine; shopkeeper Farhad Seleh eight; religion teacher Shahrokh Paknahad eight; religion teacher Farzad Kashi eight; and Faramarz Kashi five.

Three others - Tefilin's brother Omid, Navid Balazadeh and Nejatollah Brukhimnejad - were acquitted, Naseri said. The three have been out on bail since February.

"None of these verdicts and sentences are final and all can be appealed," Naseri said. "We are relieved that there were no death sentences. ... I urge family members of the defendants to remain calm."

Hossein Ali Amiri, the judiciary chief of Fars province, where the trial was held under an international spotlight since April, said earlier that the sentences included fines and lashings. Naseri made no mention of these punishments.

Amiri said two Muslim suspects also were acquitted, and another two Muslims received sentences similar to those given the Jews. Little information has been released about the Muslims involved.

The charges on which the defendants were convicted included "cooperating with a hostile government, membership in an illegal (spy) ring and recruitment of new agents," Naseri said.

Tefilin was the first of the defendants arrested more than a year ago and was the first of two Jews involved in the case to be shown on national television confessing to spying for Israel. Zadmehr also confessed, though not on television.

In all, eight defendants confessed and pleaded guilty, four pleaded innocent and one acknowledged passing information but maintained his action did not constitute espionage.

Most of the accused were from Shiraz, 550 miles south of Tehran. As word spread of the verdicts and sentences, relatives waiting outside the courthouse let out cries of despair.

The case has cast a pall over Iran's Jewish community and drawn concerned attention from the United States, Israel and elsewhere. Critics have questioned whether the accused could be fairly tried in a process in which there was no jury, the judge also acted as prosecutor and observers were banned.

Israel said all the defendants are innocent and asked the international community to press for their release.

"Iran cannot be accepted as a member of the international community as long as Jewish prisoners are rotting away in prison when they have done no wrong," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said Saturday.

Questions about fairness had increased when state television broadcast confessions from two of the defendants. Defense lawyers said they were not given a chance to consult with their clients before the confessions, which came after months in jail.

"Clearly the result comes as little surprise in a show trial of this kind. Sadly, guilty verdicts were expected," said David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, reached at his home in New York early Saturday.

"It's a tragedy for the 10 and our hearts go out to them and their families, even as our resolve to rescue them remains undiminished."

Anticipating prison terms for the defendants, Rabbi Marvin Samedi, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Friday that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami would face protests on foreign trips as a result.

Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said from his New York home that sentences might have included death had people around the world not spoken out against the trial.

"Thank God at least no one had to pay with his life because of the political prejudices of the Iranian government," Baum said. Still, "the moderation of the Khatami government is not reflected in these trials. This is a matter of great distress."

In 1997, two Jews were hanged at Tehran's Evin prison on similar spying charges. Iranian officials had differed on whether the death penalty could be applied if any of the 13 in the current case were convicted.

Iran's Jewish community, although it has dwindled over the decades, remains the Middle East's largest outside Israel. Iranian Jews are generally allowed to practice their religion freely, but like all Iranians they are forbidden any contact with Israel.

A look at the charges and sentences against the 10 Iranian Jews convicted Saturday of espionage. Lawyers have said they will appeal the verdicts and sentences.

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Dani Tefilin, 30: Identified as the main defendant and sentenced to 13 years for membership of an illegal group and co-operation with Israel. Iran has no diplomatic ties and bans any contact with Israel, which it considers an arch-foe.

Tefilin, a shoe salesman, was the first of the defendants to be arrested more than a year ago and the first to confess on television. In his televised confession, he said he had travelled to Israel and trained with its main external spy agency, Mossad. He said Israel had paid him in instalments equivalent to about $750 Cdn in exchange for sensitive information about Iran, and that his mother, two sisters and a brother live in the Jewish state. His brother, Omid, was among three defendants acquitted of all charges.

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Asher Zadmehr, 54: An English-language professor, he received a 13-year jail sentence for setting up an illegal spy network and co-operating with Israel. Zadmehr confessed to having co-operated with Israel and having assessed and evaluated information before it was sent to the Jewish state, but he denied forming the spy ring. Zadmehr told the court he had not passed any negative information to Israel regarding Iran, only information that put Iran in a positive light.

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Nasser Levi-Haim, 50: A civil servant who worked for the state power company, Levi-Haim was given an 11-year jail term for his admitted leadership role in the network. He said he was not involved in information gathering himself and that his role was to cull the information gathered by other agents. Levi-Haim told the court he was motivated by ideological reasons and love of the Jewish state, not by money.

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Ramin Farzam, 27: A store clerk, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for membership in an illegal group and co-operation with Israel. Farzam pleaded guilty to espionage charges, saying he was paid by Israel to spy, but was caught before he could relay any information.

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Shahrokh Paknahad 30: A religion teacher, he was sentenced to eight years. He confessed to spying for Israel and told reporters he was a ringleader who had helped set up a network in the city of Isfahan. A stalwart of the small Jewish community in Shiraz, he said he had used his position to recruit agents. In a televised confession, Paknahad also said he collected information for sabotage and gathered military information during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war while he was performing mandatory military service.

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Javid Bent-Yacoub, 42: A shopkeeper, he received a nine-year sentence for membership in an illegal group, co-operation with Israel, and recruitment of new agents. He said he had travelled to Israel for 45 days in 1993, where he had met with a Mossad agent. He said he knew he was committing a crime, but said he thought he was a member of a religious group, not a spy network, and did not consider his actions espionage.

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Farhad Seleh, 40: An owner of a textile shop and a religion teacher, he was sentenced to eight years for membership of an illegal group and co-operation with Israel. He pleaded guilty to spying for Israel.

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Farzad Kashi, 30: A religion teacher, he was sentenced to eight years for membership of an illegal group and co-operation with Israel. Kashi pleaded not guilty to the espionage charges.

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Faramarz Kashi, 34: A religion teacher and brother of Farzad, he confessed to spying for Israel and was given a five-year sentence.

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Ramin Nematizadeh, 27: A shop clerk, he was sentenced to four years for membership of an illegal group and passing on sensitive information to Israel. He confessed in court he had gathered military information for Israel during his mandatory army service and sent it to Israel.


©Copyright 2000, The Canadian Press

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