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The BBC's Jim Muir in Shiraz
"Death sentences would have meant an international crisis"
 real 28k

Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Iranian Jews guilty of spying
Court room
The trial has ended without the death penalty
Ten Iranian Jews and two Muslims have been found guilty of spying for Israel after a month-long trial that has drawn international attention.

We continue to emphasise our belief that our clients have not committed espionage and therefore whatever the verdict we reserve the right to appeal

Ismail Nasseri, defence lawyer

Five other people - three Jews and two Muslims - were acquitted at the trial in the southern city of Shiraz.

Two of the Jews received 13 years in jail. Eight others received sentences ranging from 8 years to four. The two Muslims found guilty each received two years .

BBC Tehran correspondent Jim Muir says there is huge relief, even among those who thought the sentences harsh, that the court has not imposed the death penalty.

The verdict, which was read out to journalists, said the accused belonged to an Israeli spy ring set up more than 20 years ago primarily to collect military secrets.


Iranian Jewish suspect Hamid Telfin
Hamid Teflin made a confession on state TV
As reports of the sentences spread, howls of anguish rose from anxious relatives of the accused who had gathered outside the Shiraz courthouse.

The sister of Hamid Teflin, one of those sentenced to 13 years in jail, fainted when she heard the news.

International concern

The trial has drawn a great deal of international condemnation, particularly because of worries that those found guilty could face the death penalty.

Several Western countries had made it clear that any death sentences would have damaged relations.


We call upon the international community to continue working together with Israel, and to do their utmost to bring about the prompt release of the prisoners

Israeli Government
Israel has denied that any of the Iranians were spying on its behalf.

There has been strong international reaction condemning the trial and the verdicts.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said: "The government of Israel wishes to express its profound shock and concern following the harsh sentences passed on some of the Jewish prisoners who are innocent of any wrongdoing."

David A Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee said the result came as little surprise. "Sadly, guilty verdicts were expected. The struggle will go on, and the spotlight of injustice will continue to be shone on Iran."

In Britain, Lord Janner, the vice-president of World Jewish Congress, said: "The verdicts are disgraceful and the announced sentences are vile and uncivilised."

Appeal

Defence lawyer Ismail Nasseri agreed the prison sentences were excessive, but he said he regarded it as a good result at this stage.

Our correspondent says the defence have strong hopes of winning a big reduction in the sentences at the appeals stage.

Defence lawyers had argued that no documents or evidence of spying by the accused have been produced, apart from confessions which some of them had made.

Teflin's sister is overcome
Teflin's sister is overcome on hearing the verdict
All but one of the Jews confessed to the charges against them. Some of the confessions were made on state television, a practice strongly denounced by the defence lawyers.

"We continue to emphasise our belief that our clients have not committed espionage and therefore whatever the verdict given on espionage charges, we reserve the right to appeal," Mr Nasseri said.

The Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, Morris Mottamed, described the sentences as very heavy.

"Our community is in a state of shock. There is no clemency here, contrary to what we had been assured," Mr Mottamed said.

The defendants now have 20 days in which to lodge an appeal.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iran's Jews face uncertain future
01 May 00 | Middle East
Iranian Jew 'admits spying'
10 May 00 | Middle East
Iranian Jew denies spying charges
13 Apr 00 | Middle East
Trial puts spotlight on Iran's Jews
11 Jun 99 | Middle East
Israel denies Iranian spy allegations
28 Oct 99 | Middle East
Khatami's promise to Jewish 'spies'
17 May 00 | Middle East
New defence at Iran 'spy' trial
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