Bahai News - Ten Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel, three acquitted
Ten Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel, three
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Faramarz Kashi, 34: A religion teacher and brother of Farzad, he
confessed to spying for Israel and was given a five-year sentence.
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
Page last updated/revised 070100
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