Fate of 13 Jews in judge’s hands

NEW YORK, June 7 (JTA) — Jewish activists around the world are making last-ditch pleas for justice as an Iranian judge decides the fate of 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel.

Attorneys for the accused submitted their written defense Tuesday, and according to Iranian law, the judge is required to announce a verdict within a week.

There had been concern that the recent arrests of two Muslims, who reportedly worked in connection with the “Iran 13,” would further delay the trial. But little more has been heard about them.

Meanwhile, nationwide prayer vigils were planned in the United States for Sunday, and another public vigil was scheduled to be held Tuesday outside the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York.

CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular Jewish organizations in France, announced it hoped to gather 100,000 signatures demanding the “immediate liberation” of the Iranian Jews, and sanctions against Iran if they were found guilty.

And the leading American Jewish advocate for the “Iran 13,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued another condemnation of the entire trial.

“It is now Iran that is on trial,” read a statement.

“The verdict will make clear to the world the kind of rule of law and system of justice in Iran.”

In addition, a group of four anti-Zionist rabbis reportedly arrived in Iran — said to be the first rabbinical delegation to visit Iran since the trial began. The Neturei Karta rabbis were expected to meet with Iranian officials, and possibly to visit the Jews of Shiraz, where the trial has taken place.

It was unclear what role the rabbis would play.

Iranian hard-liners would likely view them as sympathetic to their cause, as they accuse the 13 Jews of spying for the “Zionist enemy,” Israel.

A Neturei Karta spokesman, Rabbi Chaim Lefkowitz, was quoted as saying his group got involved because the trial “gives an image that the Jews are Zionist agents all over the world and that’s a false impression.”

Eight of the 13 have “confessed” to the crime, with a ninth claiming he gathered information but did not disseminate it. Western observers, however, suggest the confessions were coerced.

The lead defense lawyer has also attacked the entire proceedings, insisting that not a shred of credible evidence was provided to support the confessions.

“If the court is not politically influenced, the judge will have no choice

but to clear all the charges against the defendants,” Esmail Naseri, lawyer and spokesman for the defense team, was recently quoted as saying.

The accused could have faced the death penalty for espionage. Several Iranians Jews have been executed in recent years for similar crimes.

It now appears the Jews targeted as the ringleaders may receive sentences ranging from two to 10 years in prison.

Foreign diplomats have threatened Iran with various punishments if the verdicts are severe.

Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen, for example, in wrapping up a two-day visit to Iran last week, referred to the trial in warning that Iran’s continued violation of human rights would cost it foreign investment.

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