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Leniency possible in Jewish spy case appeal-Khatami

BERLIN, July 12 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Wednesday defended Iran's conviction of 10 Jews for spying for Israel and suggested leniency might be shown when the case goes to appeal.

The 10 Iranian Jews were sentenced this month to between four and 13 years in prison after being convicted of providing secret information to Israel. Two Moslems -- a military officer and a defence contractor -- were jailed for two years each.

``Justice is not the responsibility of the government,'' Khatami, a moderate cleric elected in 1997 on a reformist ticket, told a panel discussion in the east German town of Weimar at the end of a three-day visit to Germany.

Khatami, whose reform efforts have been hampered by an isolationist Islamic elite which may have gained the upper hand in recent months, also said the convicted had not been treated differently because they were Jews.

``The judgment was much milder than in other spying cases,'' he said. ``After the appeal the situation of those condemned might be better than now.''

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder raised human rights in Iran, including the spy trial, in private talks with Khatami after their main meeting on Monday.

But he refrained from using strong words in public. Khatami's ability to influence Iran's conservative-dominated justice system is seen as slight in the continiung power struggle.

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated against Khatami in Berlin on Tuesday. One banner said: ``No political judgment in Iran. Freedom for the 10 Jews and two Muslims.''


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