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Shops Owned by Iran Jews Attacked

May 24, 2000

SHIRAZ, Iran (AP) _ Several Jewish merchants have had their businesses attacked since last month’s opening of a trial of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel, a Jewish official said today.

Jewish leaders and members of Iran’s 25,000-strong Jewish community have described becoming more isolated since confessions of two of the accused were shown on state television. Classmates were treating Jewish children with contempt at school, they have said, and fear or shame has kept some Jews from going to work.

``This trial has created problems for the whole Jewish community in Iran,″ Haroun Yashayaii, head of Iran’s Jewish society, said outside the courthouse as proceedings resumed today in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. ``I have documents showing that several shops owned by Jews were attacked, and one was set on fire in Tehran.″

He said police have confirmed the arson attack, but gave no other details.

Western nations have expressed concern about the trial’s fairness. Israel has denied the spying charges, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has warned Iran that the outcome of the trial could have international repercussions.

Defense lawyer Esmail Naseri said that today’s court session would be the first face-to-face meeting of some of the accused. He said lawyers would cross-examine the defendants to show inconsistencies in their testimonies.

Judiciary officials said today’s hearing opened with three of the accused in the dock, and said others also were on hand to testify if needed.

The state’s case is based almost entirely on confessions made by eight of the accused, but defense lawyers say prosecutors must show that secret information damaging to Iran actually changed hands in order to meet the legal standard for espionage.

Naseri today repeated criticism of the trial and the closed, no-jury court where Judge Sadeq Nourani is also the prosecutor.

``I don’t blame the judge, I blame the primitive and reactionary law that allows the revolutionary courts, where the judge is equivalent to God _ nobody can touch him, nobody has any control,″ said Naseri, a former revolutionary court judge.

He said that confessions after 15 months of incarceration for some of the suspects could not be considered valid because of the psychological pressure.

Three of the defendants who have been out on bail since February pleaded innocent in court Monday. One other jailed defendant has pleaded innocent, and one has said he passed secret information to Israel only out of religious conviction.

Iranian Jews numbered 80,000 before the 1979 Islamic revolution, and they still constitute the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel. They are generally allowed to practice their religion freely, but cannot travel to or have any contact with Iran’s arch foe, Israel.

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