PARIS-TEHRAN 13 Sept. (IPS) An Islamic judge said Sunday that there are "irrefutable evidence" against 13 Iranian Jews arrested last February on charges of spying for Israel.

Hojatoleslam Qolamhossein Rahbarpour, the Head of Tehran Islamic revolution court said the Iranian authorities have "not the slightest doubt" that the arrested Jews were spying for the Zionist regime and the veracity of the charges have convinced all the officials.

His remarks were an indirect answer to newspaper reports that President Khatami had charged a special committee to review the case.

"It is certain that those people are spies and the documents obtained by Fars Department of Information are strong and sufficient enough" Mr. Rahbarpourhe told the hard line daily "Jomhuri Eslami" that belongs to ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the conservative leader of the Islamic Republic.

Reacting for the first time publicly to the news, Mr. Manouchehr Eliasi, the sole MP representing the 30.000 strong Iranian Jewry told the Majles (parliament) that Jewish community was fearful over the outcome of the case against the accused.

The men, most of them synagogue servicemen, religious teachers, rabbis and cemetery attendants are members of an ultra-orthodox Iranian Jewish sect based in the Southern city of Shiraz, the capital city of the Fars province.

They had been arrested last February, but the case surfaced first in France in June after all secret negotiations between the community's representatives both inside and outside the country with the clerical authorities failed to produce result.

A source close to the community and to the case told IPS that he could not understand the behaviour of the Iranian authorities since relations between the Jews and the ruling mullahs has always been cordial, helping difficulties to be solved in friendly atmosphere.

The arrest of the Jews created outcry in the world. Violent anti-Iranian demonstrations were organised in France by the French Jewish and rights organisations.

Iranian authorities strongly denied that the arrest were motivated by religious ground, observing that like other official religious minorities, the Iranian Jews were represented in the Parliament and are participating actively in the political and economic life of the nation, where they have lived for the past 4500 years.

"The arrest of several members of the Jewish community has aroused anguish and worry among Iranian Jews," Manushehr Eliasi told fellow MPs, adding that Iran's Jews were hoping for a "just outcome to this case."

Mr. Eliasi also accused the international media of "exaggeration", saying by exaggerating the facts, the foreign media is seeking to attack our national unity," he said without elaborating.

"I hope that the judicial authorities will examine the matter as quickly as they can while respecting the legal rights of the accused and deliver a just verdict in order to dispel the anxieties of my constituency", Mr. Eliasi further said.

"The Zionist regime was definitely involved in the spying," Mr. Rahbarpour said, repeating the charges that the defendants had dispatched "members of their network abroad for training" and helped "some Iranians to illegally leave the country."

But informed and independent Jewish sources refuted the allegations, observing that members of the sect were strictly forbidden from engaging in political activities.

He also repeated earlier allegations by other hard line clerics that Israel has a "well-organised spy ring" based in the Islamic Republic, using the Iranian Jewish community.

"The espionage network involving the arrested suspects was very complicated. The 13 had been relaying information from their espionage activities "through advanced communications devices" the Islamic judge said without elaborating further.

"This is why the investigations have taken a lot of time", he said.

Observers noted the Iranian cleric's tendency for exaggeration, obsessed with pretentiousness that whatever they deal with is "very complicated".

Two months ago, when they freed three Italians who had been taken hostage by Iranian tribesmen, they said they obtained the kidnappers freedom after a series of highly complicated operations.

They repeated the same theory ten days ago after three Spaniards, one Italian and their Iranian translator were freed by their kidnappers.

But, as it turned out, the very highly complicated operations were nothing but bowing to the abductors demand for money and the release of their relatives from Iranian jails.

Both Israel and the United States repeatedly denied having any link wit the arrested men and called on the Iranian authorities to release them.

"It's as if we had asked the United States to free people in their country charged with espionage before they had even gone to trial," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi observed, accusing Washington of meddling in Iranian internal affairs.

In another development, the same Mr. Asefi dismissed as "biased and baseless" a U.S. human rights report which criticised Iran for religious intolerance.

"The U.S. State Department has circulated a biased and unjust view on the status of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is an indication of its ignorance of human rights in this country," Asefi said, without mentioning that the report was namely talking about the Iranian Baha'i.

Contrary to the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians that are officially recognised in the Islamic-inspired Iranian Constitution, the 250.000 to 300.000 Iranian Baha'i have no rights at all, they are not allowed in the Administration or the armies, their children can not attend public schools or enter universities, their temples are systematically destroyed and the faithful randomly arrested.

"Iran adheres to the religious beliefs and Islamic teachings which not only fully supports human rights of Iranian Moslems but also thoroughly observes the rights of religious minorities," Asefi said.

Next to the Baha'i, the Iranian Sunni Muslims who makes one third of the 65 millions inhabitants are also subject to systematic discrimination, with their mosques, books and schools being burned and destroyed by the authorities.

©Copyright 1999, Iran News Service
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