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Iran needs nobody's permission to punish Jewish "spies": Khamenei

TEHRAN, Sept 21 (AFP) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday told visiting Austrian President Thomas Klestil his country "asks nobody's permission to punish the spies" facing death for allegedly working for Israel.

"We are very sensitive to problems such as espionage and we ask for nobody's permission to punish anyone," he said in reference to 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Iran's arch-enemy, Israel, a charge which carries the death penalty.

"We hate spies, whether they work for Israel or anyone else," Khamenei said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

"If their crime is proved by the court, they will probably be punished," the Iranian leader told Klestil, who had voiced European Union concerns at Iran's human rights record over the spy case and the condemnation to death of four alleged leaders of July's student arrest.

"Zionist agents are everywhere, in Austria too," Khamenei told his guest. "I know in Austria they have already carried out subversive activities," he warned, without giving details.

Klestil voiced the "EU's dismay and preoccupation over the human rights situation in Iran, notably the death sentences handed down against four people condemned to death for their involvement in (July's) pro-democracy demonstrations," a member of his delegation told AFP.

Gholamhossein Rahbarpur, the head of Tehran's hardline revolutionary tribunal, said last week that the courts had "strong and sufficient" documents to prove their case against the 13 Jews, as well as seven other Iranians also accused of spying for Israel. Under Iranian law the sentence for spying for Israel or the United States is death.

Iran's deputy judiciary chief Hadi Marvi said in remarks published Monday that several of the 13 Jews have confessed to the crime.

The trial is set to take place in southern town of Shiraz but will not take place soon, Marvi said, as several people linked to the case are outside the country.

"The allegations against (the 13) are without foundation, and we've called on the government of Iran to uphold its stated commitment to protect the rights of all religious and ethnic minorities by releasing these individuals and ensuring that no harm comes to them," US State Department spokesman James Foley said on Tuesday.


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