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Lawyer for Iran Jews raises torture allegations

By Ali Raiss-Tousi

TEHRAN, July 13 (Reuters) - Iranian prosecutors resorted to unlawful methods, which could be defined as torture under Islamic law, to extract confessions from Iranian Jews convicted of espionage, a lawyer for the convicted men said on Thursday.

``Solitary confinement before court hearings is considered a form of torture by Islamic traditions and the constitution has banned torture as a means of getting confessions,'' Esmail Nasseri, lead defence lawyer for nine of the 10 Jews, told Reuters on Thursday.

``Our clients were held in solitary confinement for long periods during the investigations. This can invalidate their confessions,'' Nasseri said quoting traditions from Imam Ali, a successor to the Prophet Mohammad.

But the head of the local judiciary denied the allegation, saying he could ``guarantee'' no undue pressure was involved.

Naseri also said the evidence brought by the prosecution was insufficient and that he strongly felt the suspects had been found guilty by the Revolutionary Court based on their confessions alone.

Local newspapers in the southern city of Shiraz, where the trial was held, have published similar reports, quoting Nasseri.


But the head of the justice department in Shiraz said that Nasseri's allegations were ``illogical.''

``These comments are illogical. I can guarantee there was no torture involved whatsoever,'' Hossein-Ali Amiri told Reuters.

``Iranian law does not allow convictions based solely on confessions, the verdict was based on clear evidence,'' Amiri said.

``The lawyers are resorting to making noise instead of making a legally-based defence,'' he added.

Ten Jews and two Moslem collaborators, a military officer and a defence contractor, were found guilty of spying for Iran's arch-foe Israel, earlier this month. They were sentenced to two to 13 years in prison.

Three Jews and two Moslems were acquitted and the case remains open against at least four Moslems, as well as one Jewish suspect who has fled Iran.

Nasseri, who is preparing to file an appeal to the 71-page verdict, said he was ``optimistic'' the appeals court would look favourably to the case.

``The judge at the Revolutionary Court did find all our clients not guilty of gathering classified information, and we are more optimistic towards the Court of Appeal,'' he said.

He also criticised overseas Jewish groups for politicising the case, saying the current media hype was not in the best interests of his clients.

The high-profile trial has focused unwanted attention on the comfortable lives many Jews have quietly carved out in the Islamic Republic, home to the largest Jewish community in the Moslem Middle East.

It has also exposed differences within the 30,000-strong community. Iranian Jewish sources say rivalries between the more secular Jews of Tehran and their more religious brethren in Shiraz complicated attempts to settle the matter quietly.

Iran's constitution guarantees a Jewish MP and recognises Jewish laws on personal status including marriage, divorce, inheritance and burial.


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