PARIS, Nov. 1 (JTA) — French Jews marked Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s recent visit to Paris by pressuring the French government to confront him on the safety of 13 Iranian Jews held on charges of spying.
In the midst of more than 1,000 Iranian emigres and others scorning Khatami’s visit for his country’s alleged human rights violations, more than 120 Jews assembled in Paris on Oct. 27 to demand that the French government intervene to free the Jewish prisoners. A dozen other protests took place simultaneously among Jewish communities in smaller cities in France.
French President Jacques Chirac met with Khatami and requested an “equitable examination” of the case against the 13 Jews who were charged several months ago with spying for Israel.
In a speech last Friday before the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Khatami claimed that the 13 Jews would receive a fair trial. He also promised the prisoners would be allowed to see their families and lawyers.
“Be assured that the trial will be fair and just,” he said, while maintaining he would leave its outcome to the courts. The date for the trial has not been set.
In the same speech, however, Khatami continued to point his finger at the Jewish people. “There is a Zionist lobby making great efforts to make problems for” Iran, he said.
In a separate address to UNESCO, Israeli Education Minister Yossi Sarid called the charges of espionage “totally baseless.”
The French Jewish community had rallied in advance of Khatami’s visit by circulating a petition calling for the immediate release of the 13 Jews. More than 50 prominent intellectuals and politicians, including former Prime Minister Alain Juppe and current Paris Mayor Jean Tiberi, signed the document.
The Representative Consul of French Jewish Institutions, known as CRIF, circulated the petition and organized the numerous rallies.
Disturbed by France’s eagerness to do business with Iran, Henri Hajdenberg, CRIF’s president, said at the rally, “We cannot accept that France signs economic agreements with Iran while human rights are not respected there.”