Bahai News - Ten Iranian Jews Convicted of Spying for Israel, Three Acquitted
Ten Iranian Jews Convicted of Spying for Israel, Three
SHIRAZ, Iran –– 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
Anticipating prison terms for the defendants, Rabbi
Marvin Hier, 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.
©Copyright 2000, Washington Post
Page last updated/revised 070200
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