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Iranian intelligence minister slams outcry over arrested Jews

TEHRAN, June 21 (AFP) - Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi Monday attacked the "hullaballoo" raised about the arrest of 13 Iranian Jews on spying charges.

"They were arrested a long time ago, but we did not want to impede the course of the inquiry by making a public announcement, but international Zionism published the news," he said, quoted on state television.

He added that the case had been submitted to the courts.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said Monday that the arrest of the Jews had "nothing to do with their religion." He said the issue was an "internal affair."

"All those arrested are Iranian citizens and are accused of espionage and working against national security," he said.

"Statements of support aimed at influencing the fair course of their trial are tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic and will be rejected," he added.

The arrest of the 13 Jews, mainly in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, has provoked a wave of protest internationally, in particular from the US and Israel as well as a number of European countries.

Meanwhile, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri met the country's chief rabbi and other leading members of the Iranian Jewish community.

Nateq-Nuri affirmed that the Jewish community in Iran "enjoys the same legal protection as other Iranian citizens," the official news agency IRNA said.

The meeting was attended by chief rabbi Yusef Hamedani-Cohen, Harun Yashayai, head of the Association of Jews in Iran, as well as Manochehr Eliasi, who represents the Jewish community in parliament.

Eliasi informed Nateq-Nuri of the "problems currently facing the Jewish community in Iran," IRNA reported.

Iran's penal code, revised in 1996, introduced the death penalty for those found guilty of spying for Israel or the United States, both avowed enemies of the Islamic republic.


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