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Iran promises careful investigation in spy case

WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Iranian officials have promised Austrian President Thomas Klestil a ``careful investigation'' of espionage charges against 13 Iranian Jews, Klestil said in a letter released on Thursday.

Klestil, who visited Iran on September 20 and 21, intends to follow the case personally on the basis of the assurances he received there, he told the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles in a letter dated Sept. 28.

The founder of the centre, Rabbi Marvin Hier, had written to the Austrian president before the visit to ask him to raise the case of the Jews, who were arrested in southern Iran earlier this year and who face charges of spying for Israel.

Iranian officials gave Klestil the same assurances they have given in public over the past few months -- that the Jews will have a fair trial, with a lawyer and the right to appeal, that their religion was irrelevant and that they are not presumed guilty before the trial.

``I was promised a careful investigation of these espionage charges within the framework of fair judicial proceedings... I intend to continue to follow this matter personally with the greatest attention, particularly in view of the assurances given to me by the Iranian leadership,'' Klestil wrote.

The case has aroused anxiety among Western governments and human rights groups, fearful that the Jews would not receive a fair hearing under Iran's system of Islamic justice.

However, senior Iranian officials have been at pains to emphasise the case will revolve around the facts and has nothing to do with the faith of those accused.

The defendants have been given kosher food while in detention and are allowed to practice their religion freely, according to officials and relatives of those being held.

Klestil's letter was released by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a foundation dedicated to preserving memory of the Holocaust and to the welfare of Jews.


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