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Iranian Jews could be charged with spying as early as this week

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (JTA) — The fate of 13 Iranian Jews held on charges of spying for Israel could be decided Thursday when prosecutors are scheduled to present their case in an Iranian court. “The charges will be brought on Thursday,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, citing “official Iranian sources.” But no one knows for sure what will happen on Thursday — whether the hearing marks the start of a trial or only the announcement of indictments. The most likely scenario, according to knowledgeable sources, is that the charges will be dropped against some of the prisoners, some could be sentenced to time served and others will face capital espionage charges. Jewish activists have vehemently denied the charges against the 13, who were arrested in March. Iran has executed 17 Jews on espionage charges, including two in 1997. Since Iran publicized the arrests this spring, the Jewish community in the United States and in Israel has worked with European diplomats, United Nations officials, clergy and others for the prisoners’ release. After a period of public protests, the activists decided to lay low and focus on diplomatic efforts. Over the past two months, conditions have improved for the detainees. They have been allowed family visits and kosher meals, according to sources in contact with relatives in the United States. In the wake of reports of the court session later this week, Jewish activists are looking at “contingency plans,” Hoenlein said. For now, Jewish officials are calling on Iran to provide a free trial, with foreign observers, reporters and legal representation for the defendants. “Our feeling is that the correct way of resolving this issue is the conclusion of investigations,” said Sam Kermanian, the secretary-general of the Los Angeles-based American Iranian Jewish Federation. But if Iranian authorities believe that “the investigations support the continuation of the judicial process for some of these people,” Kermanian said, “we would like to see immediately that they are allowed to hire an attorney, that all files be turned over to the attorney and that they are given a reasonable time to prepare a defense.” Any subsequent judicial proceedings, Kermanian said, should be “transparent and open.”
(Staff writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this report.)