Bahai News - Guilty verdicts threaten all Iranian Jews, many warn
Guilty verdicts threaten
By Michael J. Jordan
all Iranian Jews, many warn
NEW YORK, July 2 (JTA) American Jewish politicians and activists
say the conviction of 10 of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel
places Iranian Jewry under greater threat than at any other time in its
The worse-than-expected sentences also mean that Iran's
hard-liners may succeed in rolling back the minor steps made by
reformers in thawing relations with the West, experts say.
The 10 guilty verdicts handed down Saturday produced sentences
ranging from four to 13 years in prison. Three Jews, including a
17-year-old student, were found innocent.
Activists compared the outcome with the anti-Semitic blood
libels of the 19th century and the Stalinist show trials of the 20th
The United States, Israel, Britain and France criticized Iran
after the sentences were issued.
President Clinton called on Iran to "overturn these unjust
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday
that he would call on the international community to press Iran to free
For their part, Iranian officials attacked Western criticism of
the verdicts, saying it was a violation of its national sovereignty.
Some Iranian officials said the verdicts were too soft and might not
deter others from spying against the Islamic Republic.
Anguished and irate, Jewish leaders vowed Sunday to redouble
their efforts to secure the Jews' freedom. At the same time, they said
they will pressure Washington and its European allies to make Iran "pay
a price" for the sentencing of 10 men whom they continue to assert are
guilty only of being Jews.
"In fact, it was Iran that was found guilty of gross violations
of human rights and rejecting the rule of law," said Malcolm Hoenlein,
executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, at a small street demonstration in New
York on Sunday.
In his verdict, the judge reportedly noted that all 10 men were
guilty of contact with Israel, devotion to the Jewish state and study of
Several of the 10 were religious leaders in the southern city of
Shiraz. The others were their adherents.
The religious leaders received the harshest sentences.
The verdict could be appealed, said the chief lawyer for the 10,
which could lead to reduced sentences or even clemency from Iran's
religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, there were also reports the Jews may be punished with
fines and lashes a common penalty for guilt.
"This is an absolute disgrace and a shame," said U.S. Rep. Eliot
Engel (D-N.Y.). "The U.S. Congress will not sit idly by. Iran must pay a
price for this. Iran will pay a price for this."
Engel said he and others would sponsor a resolution denouncing
Iran and the verdict. There is also talk of tightening sanctions against
Iran that were recently eased, and blocking Iranian officials from
visiting the West. Jewish leaders are also organizing additional,
perhaps larger street protests in the United States.
How these verdicts and heightened international pressure will
affect the approximately 25,000 Jews in Iran already down from
100,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution remains to be
No Iranian official was quoted as offering any reassuring words
to the rest of the Jewish community.
That only adds to the "panic and fear" pervading the community,
and any Iranian Jew who is even outwardly religious may be vulnerable to
similar accusations and punishment, said Americans in touch with
Not surprisingly, Jewish emigration from Iran has leapt since
the trial began in April, American Jewish and Israeli officials told
JTA. It may rise further now that hopes for clemency for the 10 have
If there is any positive to be drawn from the verdict, observers
say, it's that the rallying of international public opinion prior to the
verdict likely spared the Iranian Jews the death sentence.
Since 1979, 17 other Iranian Jews accused of spying have been
executed, most recently in 1997 and 1998.
The difference, say American Jewish advocates for the "Iran 13,"
is that the earlier arrests were virtually kept secret. The families
reportedly heard about the executions only after the fact.
There are crucial similarities, however.
Then, as now, the charges were trumped up, say observers, with
the Jews used as pawns in the political battles of the Iranian
U.S. Jewish leaders said they became convinced of the Iran 13's
innocence after conducting their own investigation and consulting with
the CIA, FBI and the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency.
In piecing together the genesis of the case, American Jewish
officials say it originated innocently enough as a conflict within
Iranian Jewry, between the community leadership in Tehran which is
said to go to great lengths not to offend the Islamic authorities
and an increasingly active, fervently Orthodox faction in Shiraz.
It wasn't long before Iranian hard-liners seized on the dispute
to undermine the Western outreach of their reformist rivals.
The Jews were arrested in January and March 1999.
Their imprisonment, and the subsequent threats of death, was a
calculated move to provoke the West, say observers.
Though Iran's Baha'i minority are far more persecuted, their
plight generates nowhere near the emotional response, nor do their
brethren outside Iran approach the global influence of the Jewish
Indeed, fueled by criticism from the United States and Israel,
international condemnation grew louder as each new "injustice" of the
Iran 13 case unfolded.
During the early stages of the trial in May, two of the accused
Jews had their "confessions" broadcast on state-controlled television.
It fanned the flames of Jew-hatred, and many Iranian Jews reported that
they were afraid to go to work, or send their children to school,
because some in the public now suspected all Jews of being spies.
Several Jewish-owned shops were reportedly attacked, with one in Tehran
In all, eight of the Jews "confessed" to the charges, while a
ninth admitted to gathering, but not disseminating, information to the
But foreign observers insisted that the "confessions" had been
coerced after 15 months of solitary confinement, with human contact
limited mostly to the interrogators. The prisoners' families were later
allowed to visit for only five minutes per week.
During the trial itself, the courtroom was closed to the public
and foreign observers, and the judge also assumed the role of
prosecutor. According to Western law, that would be considered a clear
conflict of interest.
Hard evidence was not provided, say American observers, a
violation of Iranian law. The verdicts were therefore based on the
"confessions," say Iranian authorities, which raises more questions
about their validity since four of the Jews recently recanted their
statements in second appearances before the judge.
On Sunday, Iran's judiciary described the Jews' espionage
activity as part of a 20-year conspiracy against the Islamic regime
yet was unable to provide any evidence to support its claims.
Moreover, if the Jews were indeed guilty, many questions remain
unanswered: How would Jews who were mostly simple shopkeepers, clerks or
teachers have had access to military sites and other sensitive
information? Why would the Mossad, one of the most respected
intelligence agencies in the world, hire Jews who live under a
microscope? And why would the Mossad not have simply gotten such data
Nevertheless, the verdict may have been a compromise of sorts.
To the Iranian public, judiciary officials can maintain that
they did indeed root out a spy ring. To the outside world, they can
point to the "leniency" and "fairness" they have demonstrated by
their standards in that some Jews were acquitted and no one will be
But now the focus may turn to President Mohammed Khatami. As the
leading reformer, Western governments have pinned their hopes on him.
Yet, his silence during the trial suggests many possibilities.
Analysts say it may indicate how deeply anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist
sentiment runs through Iranian society, and therefore how politically
unpopular it would be to speak out on behalf of those accused of
collaborating with the "Zionist regime."
Moreover, it suggests either how impotent Khatami may be to
challenge the fundamentalists' hold on power, or perhaps Khatami's own
complicity, and that he is not nearly as "moderate" as advertised.
"Iran does not deserve to be treated as a moderate nation," U.S.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said at the New York demonstration Sunday.
"This leopard has not changed its spots."
IRAN 13' SENTENCED
The following are the sentences handed down Saturday on the
"Iran 13" by a revolutionary court in Iran:
Hamid Tefileen, 29, merchant 13 years in prison
Asher Zadmehr, 49, university English instructor 13 years
Nasser Levi Haim, 46, Hebrew teacher 11 years
Ramin Farzam, 36, perfume mechant 10 years
Javeed Beit Yakov, 41, sporting goods merchant nine years
Farzad Kashi, 31, religion teacher eight years
Shahrokh Paknahad, 23, religion teacher eight years
Farhad Saleh, 31, shopkeeper eight years
Faramarz Kashi, 35, Hebrew teacher (brother of Farzad Kashi) five
Ramin Nemati, 23, merchant four years
Navid Bala Zadeh, 17, student
Nejat Broukhim, 36
Omid Tefileen, 26 (brother of Hamid Tefileen)
TIMELINE OF IRAN 13' TRIAL
By Brian Seidman
The following is a timeline of key events in the trial of the
January-March 1999 13 Iranian Jews are arrested in the
southern province of Fars.
June 7, 1999 The Iranian government charges the 13 Iranian
Jews with spying for the United States and Israel. Both countries deny
the charges, which are punishable by death. Israeli officials worry that
the men may have been arrested simply for being Jewish.
Feb. 2, 2000 The Iranian government releases three of the
prisoners on bail, amid announcements that a trial for all 13 is
imminent. Advocates for the prisoners worry that the accused will not
receive a fair trial, and that a trial is not likely to occur until
after Iran's upcoming elections.
March 15, 2000 It is announced that the remaining 10
prisoners will not be allowed to hire independent attorneys.
April 5, 2000 After an appeal by Iran's leading rabbi, the
Iranian judiciary announces it will allow all 13 Jews to
hire their own lawyers.
April 13, 2000 The trial of the Iran 13 officially opens,
but is postponed until May 1, after Passover.
May 1, 2000 The alleged leader of the Iran 13, Hamid "Dani"
Tefileen confesses to spying for Israel on state television. More of the
prisoners make confessions' in the following week. By the end of the
month, eight prisoners plead guilty, one admits to some activities but
not spying and four plead not guilty, including the three released
earlier on bail.
June 13, 2000 Four of the prisoners retract their
"confessions," while a Muslim accused of collaborating with the Jews
also denies the charge.
July 1, 2000 Ten of the Iranian Jews are convicted of
spying for Israel and sentenced to prison terms of four to 13 years,
drawing condemnation from Israel and President Clinton. The judge, who
also acted as prosecutor, acquits the three other Jews. The defense
lawyer vows to appeal.
©Copyright 2000, Jewish Telegraphic Agency Inc.
Page last updated/revised 070300
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