Bahai News - Iran sentences to jail 10 Jews, 2 Muslims accused of spying

Iran sentences to jail 10 Jews, 2 Muslims accused of spying

July 1, 2000
Web posted at: 4:44 p.m. EDT (2044 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

An Islamic Revolutionary Court also acquitted three defendants, a defense attorney said. Also, two Muslims were convicted of working with the Jewish defendants, and another two were acquitted.

Israel, which has steadfastly denied contacts with the men, immediately denounced the verdicts. Relatives of the defendants -- who arrived at the courthouse in Shiraz on foot because of the Jewish Sabbath -- moaned in grief.

Defense lawyer Esmail Naseri urged family members to remain calm after the verdicts were handed down. Most of the accused are from Shiraz, which is 880 kilometers (550 miles) south of the capital of Tehran.

"None of these verdicts and sentences are final and all can be appealed," Naseri said. "We are relieved that there were no death sentences."

Verdicts prompt international criticism

Human rights organizations, foreign governments and Jewish groups have sharply questioned the fairness of the trial, which started in April. The trial was conducted behind closed doors without a jury, and the judge also acted as prosecutor.

France, which currently chairs the 15-nation European Union, called the trial a disappointment and said the EU hoped Iran's appeals court would reconsider the sentences.

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

"We have raised our concerns time and time 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," Clinton said.

Clinton's statement came following a 45-minute phone conversation on Saturday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who earlier had released a statement saying, "The prime minister calls on the international community to continue and pressure the Iranian authorities to free the innocent prisoners."

U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who is campaigning for November's presidential election, called the verdicts the result of a "flawed legal process."

In a written statement, Gore accused the Iranian government of trying the suspects "without the benefit of internationally recognized due process."

Gore's Republican opponent in the presidential race, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, also released a statement on the sentences.

"The court has diminished Iran's standing in the world, and its decision is a further setback to hopes for improved relations between the United States and Iran," the Bush statement said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke condemned the convictions and described the trial as a "kangaroo proceeding."

"I think this is a ridiculous outcome," said Holbrooke, who was in the Swiss Alps attending the annual Crans-Montana business forum. "These people are innocent and they should be freed immediately. They are not spies."

Defendants accused of trying to recruit

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

According to the prosecution, defendant Dani Tefilin, a shoe salesman who received a 13-year sentence, held wild parties to lure Muslim informants. Co-defendant Asher Zadmehr, a university language professor who also got 13 years, acted as one of the senior coordinators of the gang, authorities alleged.

Tefilin was the first of the defendants arrested more than a year ago.

Officials said the trial was conducted in private because it involved state secrets. Little information about the Muslim defendants has ever been released.

Iranian authorities said eight of the 13, including Tefilin, had confessed and pleaded guilty. Four others pleaded innocent and one acknowledged passing information but maintained his action did not constitute espionage.

Lawyers for the accused have suggested the purported confessions may have been coerced. They also said they had seen no evidence of espionage other than the confessions, and they argued the prosecution had failed to show that any of the information that may have been passed was in fact secret.

Sentences condemned as excessive

The convictions touched off alarm among groups sympathetic to the defendants. Iranian hard-liners in the judicial and clerical establishments had demanded they be executed.

One of Tefilin's sisters sobbed uncontrollably, while other family members blamed the large international press corps present at the trial for focusing attention on the case.

"I want him to be released now, I want him to come home," said the mother of Ramin Nematizadeh, an army conscript accused of passing intelligence from his barracks.

The special parliamentary deputy for Iran's 30,000-strong Jewish community called the jail terms excessive.

"We did not think the sentences would be this harsh," said Morris Moatamed.

He said Jewish emigration from Iran, which hosts the biggest Jewish community in the Muslim Middle East, had grown since the case began.

"I have requested a meeting with the supreme clerical leader and the president to discuss this and other issues," Moatamed said.

Israel vowed to press for release of the men.

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said he was not surprised by the verdicts.

"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," Harris said when reached Saturday in New York.

Correspondent Kasra Naji, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

©Copyright 2000, CNN

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