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Trial of Iranian Jews Adjourned

By AFSHIN VALINEJAD
Associated Press Writer

SHIRAZ, Iran (AP) - Four of 13 Iranian Jews who went on trial today on charges of spying for the United States and Israel have confessed and asked for clemency, a judicial official said. Related news here

The trial began earlier today but was quickly adjourned as defense lawyers asked for more time. Afterward, defense lawyer Esmail Naseri said no confessions or appeals for clemency were made in court today and any past confessions were ``irrelevant'' because they were made without the presence of the defendants' lawyers.

``There were no confessions or pleas for clemency by the defendants in court today. Nothing like that happened at all,'' Naseri said.

The trial has drawn international condemnation of Iran. Both the United States and Israel say the espionage charges are baseless.

Shortly after the trial was adjourned until May 1, Hossein Ali Amiri, the provincial judiciary chief, said four Jews have confessed to espionage, but he did not say when the confessions were made.

Amiri said that judge Sadeq Nourani has ruled the confessions admissible.

``The four defendants who appeared in court this morning all have confessed to spying for Israel, but have asked the judge for clemency,'' Amiri said at a news conference.

The defendants' relatives who were present at Amiri's news conference reacted with sobs and wails. If convicted, the suspects could get long prison terms or death sentences. In a similar case three years ago, two Jews were executed at Tehran's Evin prison.

The trial, which could help determine the future of Tehran's relations with the West, was adjourned to allow lawyers more time to prepare a defense. Only four of the 10 defendants under arrest appeared at the 90-minute court session ``because the judge wanted it this way,'' Naseri said.

``Spies are usually well-off. My son has no money at all, so how can he be a spy?'' said Rahmat Farzin, the father of one of the defendants, Ramin. The father said he and his ailing wife had taken a 15-hour bus ride to get to the courthouse in Shiraz from Tehran, where they live in poverty. Shiraz is 550 miles south of the capital.

The head of Iran's Jewish Society suddenly stood up and yelled before breaking into sobs.

``Your honor, this is an accusation against Iran's whole Jewish community,'' Haroun Yashayaii said in tears. ``We love Iran. ... We would never do anything against Iran.''

The trial has drawn Western diplomats, international journalists and a human rights activist to the courthouse in Shiraz. But Iranian authorities said Wednesday that the trial would be closed to the public for national security reasons, dashing hopes it can be monitored to ensure it is free and fair.

The Shiraz Revolutionary Court has no jury. The judge leads the investigation, prosecutes and hands down the sentence and verdict.

Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said she spoke to defense lawyers who said they had been given only five days to look at transcripts and meet with the 13 defendants.

The United States has said that the procedures and outcome of the trial could affect a growing rapprochement between the two countries.

Several European countries and the United Nations have either condemned the arrests or called for a fair trial. In Paris, about 100 French lawyers and human rights activists rallied in front of the main Court of Justice today to protest against the conditions of the trial.

The trial opens amid a serious power struggle between anti-American Islamic hard-liners and President Mohammad Khatami's reformist wing, which favors better ties with the United States. The judiciary is controlled by the hard-liners.

Iran maintains that religion has no bearing in the proceeding and notes that eight Muslims also have been arrested. It was not immediately known if they appeared in court today.

Iran's Jewish community was around 80,000 before the 1979 Islamic revolution, but now has dwindled to about 25,000.

Iranian Jewish leaders have said the 13 suspects include merchants, religious teachers, civil servants and a student.

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