Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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2 Tammuz 5760 - July 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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10 Iranian Jews Given Heavy Prison Sentences; Guilty Verdicts Threaten all Iranian Jews

by Yated Ne'eman Staff and M. Plaut

On Shabbos afternoon parshas Korach, as Israeli chareidi Jewry obeyed to instructions of the rabbonim to pray for their welfare, 10 of the Jewish defendants in the Iranian show spy trial were found guilty and sentenced to long prison sentences ranging from four to 13 years in prison. Three, including a 17-year-old student, were found innocent.

Because of the gravity of the situation, the rabbonim directed the Jewish community to pray for our Iranian brethren, despite the fact that such prayers are not ordinarily said on Shabbos.

Israel, United States, Israel, Britain and France criticized Iran after the sentences were issued. President Clinton called on Iran to "overturn these unjust sentences." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday that he would call on the international community to press Iran to free the 10.

Iranian officials were defiant and attacked Western criticism of the verdicts, saying it was a violation of its national sovereignty.

Some American Jewish politicians and activists say the conviction of 10 of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel places all of Iranian Jewry under a great threat. There are now approximately 25,000 Jews in Iran, down from 100,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. No Iranian official was quoted as offering any reassuring words to the rest of the Jewish community.

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 the Torah.

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.

Not surprisingly, Jewish emigration from Iran has leapt since the trial began in April.

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

Observers say that in those cases too, the Jews were used as pawns in the political battles of the Iranian leadership.

U.S. Jewish organizational 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.

American Jewish officials say they believe the case originated as a conflict within Iranian Jewry, between the community leadership in Teheran, which is said to go to great lengths not to offend the Islamic authorities, and an increasingly active, more observant faction in Shiraz. Iranian Moslem hard-liners seized on the dispute to undermine the Western outreach of their reformist rivals and there were arrests in January and March 1999.

During the early stages of the trial in May, the "confessions" of two of the accused were broadcast on state- controlled television. That 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 Teheran set ablaze.

In all, by the end of the trial eight of the Jews "confessed" to the charges, while a ninth admitted to gathering, but not disseminating, information to the Mossad.

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, said the defense attorneys, a violation of Iranian law. The verdicts were therefore based on the "confessions," which raises questions about their validity since four of the Jews recently recanted their statements in second appearances before the judge.

Moreover, many questions remain unanswered: How would these Jews -- who were mostly simple shopkeepers, clerks or teachers -- have access to military sites and other sensitive information? Why would the Israeli Mossad, one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world, hire Jews who live under a microscope? And why couldn't the Mossad not have simply gotten such data from satellites?

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 executed.

The following are the sentences handed down Saturday on the Iran 13 by the revolutionary court in Shiraz, Iran:

Hamid (Dany) 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 merchant, 10 years

Javeed Beit Yaakov, 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 years

Ramin Nemati, 23, merchant, four years


Navid Bala Zadeh, 17, student

Nejat Broukhim, 36

Omid Tefileen, 26 (brother of Hamid Tefileen)

Some have said that it would not be in the best interests of Iranian Jewry to try to impose tough sanctions in Iran in response to the verdict.

The Moslem hard-liners "have used this trial to present these Jews as aggressors and spies, and that all Jews have hostile tendencies toward Iran," said Pedram Moallemian, a non- Jewish Iranian emigre who is director of a Toronto-based human rights group, the Canadian Iranian Center for Liberty and Equality. "Some sort of backlash or sanction would prove their point that Iranian Jews are working with the enemy. And if there were, say, no milk for babies, Iranians looking to blame someone might find the easiest target to be the Jew on the street."

Regardless of the stance of American Jewry, the United States and the European Union sound as if they will try to balance their own reflex to react strongly to the verdict with their desire to engage Iran and draw it into the community of democratic, human rights-respecting nations.

Since the 1997 election of Khatami, Washington has taken small, mostly symbolic steps toward easing sanctions, some of which have been in place since soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The United States wants improved relations with Iran in an effort to gain leverage with a state that has sponsored terrorism and undermined the Middle East peace process.

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