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Advocates for arrested Iranian Jews working for quick end to investigation

NEW YORK, Aug. 24 (JTA) — With no formal charges brought against the 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel, their advocates are now focusing on resolving the investigation as quickly as possible and ensuring that the detainees receive a fair trial. Leaders of American Jewish organizations had quoted official Iranian sources indicating that charges would be brought last week in court, but Iran denied any legal action had been taken against the 13, who were arrested in March.
“Hopefully the authorities will come to the conclusion that these people are innocent and that they will be released,” Sam Kermanian, the secretary-general of the American Iranian Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles. But, he said, advocates for the prisoners from within and outside Iran are trying to ensure a proper defense for the 13, who range in age from 16 to 49 and include religious and community leaders. They could face the death penalty. Kermanian said an official request has been sent to the Iranian government requesting legal representation for the prisoners. “We are awaiting the response of the government of Iran in that regard,” Kermanian said. He said the head of Iran’s Jewish community, Parviz Yeshayaii, had been in contact with “various authorities inside the country” on behalf of the prisoners. Legal representation is not guaranteed in Iranian courts. Last week, the Jewish community’s representative to the Iranian Parliament was quoted as calling for a speedy conclusion to the investigation as a way to stave off pressure from the West. “What we want is a quick intervention of the judiciary in this case,” Manouchehr Eliasi reportedly told the Iranian newspaper Peyam-e Azadi. “The more this case lasts, the more controversy it causes.” Since the 13 men were arrested, international political and religious figures have called for their release. Israel has denied any connection to the detainees. The Iranian government has refused to bow to the advocates’ pressure, which it has called “meddling.” Conditions have reportedly improved for the prisoners during the past six weeks. According to sources close to their relatives, the men have received visits from family members and deliveries of kosher meals.