Exiled Iranian Activists Query Trial Confessions
DUBAI, May 8 (Reuters) - Iranian human rights activists in Europe charged
on Monday that spying confessions by Jewish defendants at a closely watched
trial in Iran may have been extracted under pressure.
"This is a game that has long existed in Iran. It was so before
the (1979 Islamic) revolution and it has only become worse since,"
said Mahmoud Rafi, head of the Berlin-based League for the Defence of Human
Rights in Iran.
"These so-called confessions fool no one in Iran or abroad."
Two of the 13 Iranian Jews on trial on espionage charges in southern
Iran admitted on Monday that they worked for Israeli intelligence, their
lawyer said. Three others made similar confessions last week. Israel denies
having ties with the group.
"Confessions by defendants, who have spent more than a year in
solitary confinement with almost no contact with relatives or lawyers,
have little legal value," Paris-based human rights activist Abdolkarim
Lahidji told Reuters.
"This is a political trial and the defendants are victims of the
Islamic republic's psychological war against Israel. It is likely they
have been forced to confess through threats and pressure," said Lahidji,
a vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues.
Many Iran analysts say the trial is part of a drive by hardliners, who
control most courts, to exacerbate tensions with Israel and the United
States, Iran's arch-foes, and block efforts by reformist President Mohammad
Khatami to improve ties with the West.
ACCUSATIONS OF DURESS REJECTED
Iranian officials deny this and reject charges that the confessions
were extracted under duress. Some of the accused, on trial behind closed
doors, have appeared in front of Western reporters to repeat their admissions
and deny they were pressured.
"In the past 21 years we have seen confessions extracted from the
likes of Saidi-Sirjani and (communist) Tudeh party leaders," Rafi
Dissident writer Ali Akbar Saidi-Sirjani died under mysterious circumstances
in detention in 1994, shortly after confessing to receiving money from
a foreign intelligence service to attack the Islamic government in his
Reformists inside Iran have questioned official reports that the writer
died of a heart attack, saying his death may have been part of the serial
killings of dozens of dissidents.
Since 1979 a top aide of the late shah, almost the entire politburo
of the pro-Soviet Tudeh party and leaders or activists of dissident groups
and the Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq have been shown on state television
confessing to crimes.
Televised confessions by dissidents were also commonplace under the
shah, who was deposed by the 1979 revolution.
"Under Iran's Islamic laws, convictions are primarily based on
confessions and not evidence. This is a basic flaw which leads to pressure
on defendants to confess," Lahidji said.
Lahidji and Rafi said Iran had rejected requests by Western human rights
groups to hold a public trial for the accused Jews and allow international
observers to attend.
Iranian officials say the trial is held behind closed doors because
of national security concerns. They have rejected what they see as foreign
interference in the case.
Diplomats in Tehran say heavy sentences at the trial may undermine efforts
to improve Iran's ties with the outside world.