Iranian Court Sentences 10 Jews to Jail and Lashings for Spying

A security court in Shiraz, Iran, today sentenced 10 out of 13 Iranian Jews and two Muslims accused of spying for Israel to jail terms of up to 13 years and to whippings.

The remaining defendants, three Jews and two Muslims, were acquitted in a trial which stirred worldwide concern over its fairness.

Israel, which denied the accused were its agents, protested the verdicts and sentences, as did Jewish groups in the United States.

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.”

But there also was relief that no death penalties were pronounced, especially among the approximately 30,000 Iranian Jews who remain in the Islamic republic of Iran. Before the verdict, Iran’s attorney general, Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadei, had warned that capital sentences might be imposed.

Nevertheless, relatives of the accused — who arrived at the courthouse in Shiraz on foot because of the Jewish Sabbath — howled in anguish at the verdicts. One family member fainted.

A lawyer for the defendant who drew the stiffest penalty, 13 years in prison, called the sentence “far too severe,” and said he would appeal.

Said to Visit Friends, Relatives

Informants in Tehran said some of the convicted Jews, mostly office or shop clerks and schoolteachers, had apparently visited relatives and friends during trips to Israel.

Israeli authorities repeatedly denied that the accused had spied for Israel. Before the verdict, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy told the Israeli Army radio, “They are on trial only because they are Jewish and the purpose of the trial is to satisfy extreme elements in Iran involved in an internal war” between moderates and extremists.

Head defense attorney Ismail Nasseri repeatedly protested that the televised confessions of eight of the accused had no legal value, and that the prosecutor — who doubled as judge in a closed trial without jury — had been unable to find real evidence to support the charges or the confessions. Some of the defendants contradicted one another in testimony, he noted.

Pressure on Iran

Throughout the long detention and trial period, Jewish and other international humanitarian groups had cautioned Iran that the trial’s outcome would influence Western and other nations’ future relations with the Islamic republic.

On June 7, four American rabbis were allowed into Iran to consult with Iranian Jewish community leaders.

No outside observers were admitted to the closed trial.

Hours before the verdict’s announcement early July 1, a justice official in Shiraz contradicted the attorney general’s warning of possible capital punishment. The justice official said the defendants “are only accused of acting against national security.” An earlier capital charge of “moharreb,” or waging war against God, was dropped, he added.

A religious law code enacted in Iran in 1996 specifies prison terms of one to ten years for persons not convicted of moharreb, but who “collaborate with a foreign state.”

Sentences Up To 13 Years

Dani Tefilin, a shoe salesman, and Asher Zadmehr, a university language professor, received the 13-year sentences, said Naseri, the defense lawyer. 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, 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.