Jews' Confessions Sow Fear in Iran
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI,
Associated Press Writer
May 9, 2000, SHIRAZ, Iran (AP) - In the wake of two Iranian Jews' televised
confessions to spying for Israel, the Jewish minority that has lived in
Iran for more than 2,000 years is retreating into isolation, fearing their
countrymen will brand them traitors. Photo
The two defendants are from a group of 13 Iranian Jews on trial for
espionage before a closed revolutionary court, where there is no jury and
the judge also acts as prosecutor. Three others have also confessed to
the charges, either in court or before reporters. Defense lawyers have
cast doubt on the confessions and the fairness of the court.
``Because the whole country is watching these confessions, Iranian
Jews are becoming more isolated and their children are being regarded with
contempt by classmates in school,'' said lawyer Esmail Naseri, who represents
three of the accused.
Some Jews have even stopped going to work for fear of suspicion, said
Naseri, a Muslim.
``The manner of this trial and the televised confessions have left
a very negative impact on the lives of Jews in Iran,'' he said.
Arash Fakhiri, a 20-year-old Jewish shopkeeper in the southern city
of Shiraz, where the trial is being held, said his community is demoralized
``Some people are treating us like spies. I heard that a Jewish girl
at an elementary school was taunted by her classmates, calling her a spy,''
The 13 defendants were arrested over the span of more than a year.
Since their closed-door trial began last month, Iranian television has
aired confessions from Dani Tefilin, a shoe salesman, and Shahrokh Paknahad,
a religion teacher. They said in separate confessions that they were trained
and paid by Israel to gather secrets in Iran.
``My husband has told reporters a few good jokes about his being guilty,''
Paknahad's wife told a reporter outside the court.
``He is the most innocent person I know,'' she said, refusing to give
her name. When asked if she could be reached later, she turned away, saying
``my phone is bugged.''
The wife of defendant Nasser Levihaim, who told the court Monday he
was the No. 2 man in the spy ring, pleaded with photographers not to take
her picture as she waited outside the courthouse.
``I work at a health clinic, and I don't want problems,'' she said.
``I don't want people pointing fingers at me.'' She, too, refused to give
At every hearing, anxious relatives of the accused wait outside the
courtroom, some rocking back and forth in the traditional manner as they
read the Torah, the Jewish holy book. They look scared, and none will give
their names to reporters.
Fear has spread through the Jews of Shiraz, who control much of the
city's business. Most of the Jewish shop owners on Shiraz's main Zand avenue
will not talk to reporters about the trial or give their names.
Jews in Iran have faced some government restrictions since the 1979
Islamic revolution, but have been free to practice their religion.
Before the revolution, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran, holding positions
of power and influence as businessmen, lawyers and senior civil servants
in the key oil and banking sectors. Now, only about 25,000 remain, still
the largest number in the Middle East outside Israel.
Jewish leaders say the trial has started another exodus, mainly among
The trial is expected to last a few more weeks. It comes amid a power
struggle pitting Iranian moderates loyal to President Mohammad Khatami
against hard-liners opposed to his social and political reforms.
Western states have expressed concern about the fairness of the proceedings.
Israel has denied the spying charges.
``The selected, edited screening of the confessions is illegal and
politically motivated,'' said Naseri, whose demand that the trial be opened
to reporters was rejected Monday by judge Sadeq Nourani.