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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK
'Death threats' for Iranian Jews' lawyer
President Khatami meets Jewish leaders
President Khatami recently met Jewish leaders to reassure them
By regional analyst Sadeq Saba

A lawyer for 10 Jews in Iran, who are appealing against a conviction of spying for Israel, says he has been threatened with death if he did not admit his clients were guilty.

The Jews and two Muslims were convicted in July by a revolutionary court in the southern city of Shiraz, and sentenced to jail terms of between two and 13 years.

The case sparked international condemnation with human rights groups questioning the fairness of the closed-door trial with no jury and the judge also acting as prosecutor.

A young Jewish boy in Iran
There has been a Jewish community in Iran for more than 2,000 years
Speaking to the BBC, the lawyer, Esmail Naseri, said despite the death threats, he would never betray his clients. But in a separate interview with the BBC, a senior Iranian judicial official denied the accusations.

This dramatic development comes just two days before an appeal court is due to make a final decision in the long-running trial.

'No evidence'

Mr Naseri did not identify the people who allegedly made the threats but promised to reveal their names if the judicial officials denied his words.

The lawyer also said that he was threatened with also being accused of espionage if he refused to co-operate.

Mr Naseri reiterated that the court had produced no evidence to prove its case.

The head of the justice department in Shiraz, Hossein-Ali Amiri, said the accusations were baseless.

Power struggle

He challenged the lawyer to reveal the names of the people who allegedly made the threats and promised to take action against any guilty official.

But he accepted that irresponsible people, or what he described as enemies of the Islamic regime, may have been involved.

It appears that the case of the Jews is becoming more and more entangled with the power struggle going on between Iranian leaders.

Supporters of the Iranian reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, are keen to resolve the issue as soon as possible in order to limit damage.

But they fear that hardline conservatives are using the case to tarnish Mr Khatami's international image.

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See also:

02 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iran rejects criticism of spy verdicts
01 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iranian Jews guilty of spying
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
30 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iranian Jews' appeal under review
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