Iran warns that Jewish "spies" risk death
as Israel denies charges
TEHRAN, June 11 (AFP) - Iran's judicial chief warned Friday that 13
Jews charged with spying for arch-enemy Israel risk execution in a case
that threatens to cloud efforts by moderate President Mohammad Khatami
for detente with the West.
As thousands of angry worshippers at weekly Moslem prayers called for
blood, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi insisted it was a case of "treason"
and the 13 suspects would be tried and sentenced in accordance with Islamic
"These people are charged with selling out the rights of 60 million
Iranians to the Zionist regime," Yazdi told the crowds at Tehran University.
"The sentence, whatever it may be, will be enforced ... In certain
cases the law calls for the death penalty."
Tehran announced Thursday that the 13 Jews who were arrested in the
past two to three months would be tried in an Islamic court on charges
of espionage, dismissing an international outcry as interference in its
Iran's press has also vigorously denied that the suspects were arrested
simply because they were members of the country's dwindling Jewish community,
and insisted that the constitution gives religious minorities the same
rights as Moslems.
"This is a case of espionage and has nothing to do with human rights,"
Yazdi said, adding that all developments would be made public.
The crowds of worshippers chanted demands for the speedy trial and execution
of the 13, with one speaker urging the judicial authorities to "put
them up against a wall and shoot them."
Iran's penal code was revised in 1996 to introduce the death penalty
for those found guilty of spying for Israel or the United States, both
avowed enemies of the Islamic republic.
Khatami, who has moved guardedly towards rapprochement with the West
since he took office in the Islamic republic in August 1997, has made no
direct comment on the affair. But in a speech on Thursday, he took
his adversaries to task, saying: "Some people, take advantage in every
possible way in order to disrupt the government's plans."
A number of senior clerics are campaigning against political and cultural
liberalisation, which they consider a threat to the values of the Islamic
revolution and the power of the clergy.
Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak categorically denied on Friday
that the suspects were spying for the Jewish state.
"As a former head of military intelligence and a member of the
intelligence services forum I can say with the greatest certainty that
these Jews never carried out illegal activities in their country,"
Barak said on Israeli army radio.
Barak has called on both UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder of Germany to help obtain their release, while US Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright has condemned the arrests as "unacceptable."
But Yazdi charged that Israel and the United States were using "obselete
arguments in raising the accusation of human rights violations."
Iran severed diplomatic relations with the Jewish state after 1979 Islamic
revolution, while ties with the United States were cut in 1980 after Islamic
revolutionary students seized took US embassy staff hostage in Tehran.
An estimated 25,000 Jews still live in Iran, but the numbers have fallen
sharply from around 100,000 before the revolution, when Israel maintained
warm relations with the regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi.