NEW YORK, June 7 (JTA) — A group of Iranian Jews who were arrested in March have been charged with spying for Israel and the United States. Iran’s state-run radio broadcast the news Monday, according to a report by the Associated Press quoting the British Broadcasting Company. The 13 people from southern Iran “were accused of spying for the ‘Zionist regime’ and ‘world arrogance,’ references to Israel and the United States respectively,” the AP report says. The announcement of the charges has lent urgency to a situation that Jewish groups have been monitoring for several months. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said much has been done during the past 10 weeks to press the Iranian government to release the detainees, who were being held without charges. “We’ve had intercessions by every government, by every person possible,” said Hoenlein, whose organization represents 55 Jewish groups. Advocates had worked with the utmost discretion in the hope that such cover would give Iran the “chance to back off.” Now, he said, those involved are preparing to “go all out to respond to what’s happening.” The “high-level intercessions” also included representatives of the United Nations, human rights groups, Jewish organizations, humanitarian agencies and business people with interests in the region, Hoenlein said, without elaborating. The Iranian Jewish community in the United States has also been involved, he said. “We received assurances all along” that the Iranian government would “take certain steps” and that “people would be released,” Hoenlein said. “They promised all along different things, none of which have come to fruition.” Israel and the United States have both denied that the espionage charges have “any validity whatsoever,” Hoenlein asserted. Espionage is punishable by death in Iran, the AP report said, noting that in 1997 Iran hanged two people convicted of spying for Israel and America. Hoenlein said Iran may have made the charges public at this point due to international pressure. “They had people arrested and held for 10 weeks without anybody being charged,” Hoenlein said. Although the Iranian radio report apparently did not specify the suspects’ religion or nationality, it did say the 13 were living among the Jewish community in the southern Fars province and cited an unidentified official, according to the Associated Press. But Hoenlein said there could be no doubt that the arrests were directed against “only Jews. They have not arrested anybody else.” Some sources had earlier suggested that an internal dispute among Jewish communities in Iran triggered the arrests. Hoenlein said specific details remain unclear, but he believed that an internal dispute “doesn’t appear to be the issue, even though it might have been at some point or for some people. “Once you’re charged with espionage, everything else pales in comparison.”
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