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Backgrounder: The Trial of 13 Iranian Jews
Posted: March 2003

On February 19, 2003, Iranian officials announced that they had released the five last remaining Jews imprisoned in the city of Shiraz. The men: Dani (Hamid) Tefillen; Asher Zadmehr; Naser Levy Hayim; Farhad Saleh and Ramin Farzam, where the last 5 out of 13 Jews on trial for spying for the "Zionist regime" and "world arrogance." Ten of the men were convicted and sentenced to prison. Since their sentencing in July 2001, five had already been quietly released.

Background:

In early 1999, thirteen Iranian Jews were arrested and imprisoned by Iranian authorities in the city of Shiraz. Those arrested included a rabbi, community leaders and a sixteen year old boy. Eleven of the arrested were from Shiraz, two from Isfahan. While the 13 were not formally charged for well over a year, the Iranian Government accused them of spying for the "Zionist regime" and "world arrogance" - Iranian code words for Israel.

Since that time, an intensive international campaign has been waged to press for justice for the "Shiraz 10" and to ensure the safety and well being of the entire Iranian Jewish community.

The Trial:

After almost seventeen months in prison, the trial of the 13 Jews opened on May 1, 2000 in the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. Hearings were held every Monday and Wednesday until May 29. The thirteen defendants were brought to the courtroom in shifts over the five-week trial.

In the period before their trial, the 13 defendants had very limited access to family and were only periodically allowed to received kosher food. Three of the defendants, Nejat Broukhim, Omid Tefillen and the youngest prisoner, Navid Bala Zadeh, were released on bail in early 2000.

As is the norm in the Revolutionary Court system, the judge in the case, Sadeq Nurani, also served as investigator and as prosecutor. Throughout the months leading up to the trial, the judge, as investigator and prosecutor visited the defendants in prison. It was he who compiled the "evidence" against the defendants and allegedly heard their "confessions."

According to Iranian law and international legal convention, all defendants have the right to choose their own legal representation. However, from the time of their arrest, the 13 Jews were denied the right to choose their own attorney. Shortly before the trial began, the Judiciary announced that eight of the defendants were now permitted to hire their own lawyers, and that two had been assigned court-appointed lawyers. In fact, none of the defendants were permitted to freely choose their own lawyer and the "defense team" was actually assigned by the Revolutionary Court.

The trial itself violated international legal norms. The court was closed to all observers, including the defendants' families, Jewish community leadership, foreign diplomats and representatives of human rights groups present in Shiraz. No evidence was presented.

In the course of the trial, nine of the thirteen defendants "confessed" to spying on behalf of Israel. The three defendants out on bail and one still imprisoned denied any espionage activity. Within hours of the first two "confessions" the two defendants, Dani (Hamid) Tefileen and Sharokh Pakhnahad, appeared on Iranian television and "admitted" their activities on behalf of Israel. In the final court hearing, the lead defense attorney, Ismail Nasseri, highlighted contradictions and inconsistencies in the confessions. The defense attorney argued that the prosecution had no evidence that the 13 Jews had spied for Israel. He also heavily criticized the court's use of the media in broadcasting the two confessions to manipulate national opinion on the trial. Mr. Nasseri also announced that four defendants had recanted their "confessions" and that cross-examination of others had highlighted inconsistencies in the confessions and testimony.

The Verdict:

On July 1, the judge in the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz announced the verdicts on the 13 Jews on trial for spying for Israel. The harsh verdicts against 10 of the defendants range from 4 to 13 years. The three defendants who had been out on bail since February, were acquitted. The international community, Jewish groups around the world and human rights groups vocally condemned this verdict and expressed outrage at the lack of due process throughout the trial.

The sentences were as follows:

    Dani (Hamid) Tefileen: Age 29, merchant, sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges "of cooperation with the Zionist regime, membership in the espionage network and gathering classified information."

    Asher Zadmehr: Age 49, university English instructor, sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges "of forming illegal group and an espionage network and of cooperating with the Zionist regime."

    Naser Levy Hayim: Age 46, Hebrew teacher, sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges "of running the espionage network and cooperating with the Zionist regime and recruiting people for the network."

    Ramin Farzam: Age 36, perfume merchant, sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of "membership in the espionage network and cooperation with the Zionist regime."

    Javid Beit Yakov: Age 41, sporting goods merchant, sentenced to 9 years in prison on charges "of membership in the espionage network, cooperation with the Zionist regime and making new recruitments to the network."

    Farzad Kashi: Age 31, religion teacher, sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges "of membership at the espionage network and cooperation with the hostile Zionist regime."

    Shahrokh Paknahad: Age 23, religion teacher, sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges "of operating a branch of the espionage network in Isfahan and cooperating with the Zionist regime."

    Farhad Saleh: Age 31, shopkeeper, sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges "of cooperating with the hostile Zionist government and membership in the espionage network."

    Faramarz Kashi: Age 35, Hebrew teacher, sentenced to 5 years in prison on charges of "membership in the espionage network and cooperation with the hostile Zionist regime."

    Ramin Nematizadeh: Age 23, merchant, sentenced to 4 years in prison on charges of "membership in the espionage network and cooperation with the Zionist regime."

    In late July, the defense team filed an appeal with the court in Shiraz.

The Appeal:

On September 21, the Appellate Court of Fars Province announced their decision on the appeal by the imprisoned Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel. In the days leading up to the announcement there were strong indications that the appeals court would overturn the earlier decision or release a number of the defendants. Despite these reports, the court only reduced the sentences of the 10 Jewish prisoners but did not overturn the guilty verdicts or release any of the prisoners.

The new sentences were as follows:

    Dani (Hamid) Tefileen: Reduced to 9 years.
    Asher Zadmehr: Reduced to 7 years.
    Naser Levy Hayim: Reduced to 7 years.
    Ramin Farzam:." Reduced to 6 years.
    Farzad Kashi: Reduced to 6 years.
    Shahrokh Paknahad: Reduced to 5 years.
    Farhad Saleh: Reduced to 6 years.
    Faramarz Kashi: Reduced to 3 years.
    Ramin Nematizadeh: Reduced to 2 years.

The Jews of Iran:

There are up to 27,000 Jews in Iran today. Most live in Teheran, with a few thousand in other Iranian cities. In accordance with Iranian law, there is a Jewish member of the Iranian Majlis (parliament), representing the community.

Jews have lived in Persia/Iran for centuries. At times, they experienced great anti-Semitism and repression, including blood libel charges and forced conversions. Under the Pahlavi reign, the Jewish community thrived.

With the 1979 Iranian Revolution, however, Jewish existence became more precarious. Officially, the community of 80,000 was considered a protected minority and was allowed to practice their religion with relative freedom. However, the safety of the community was dependent on the largesse of the anti-Israel and anti-West government. In the years following the Revolution, the majority of the Jewish community left for Israel, the United States and Europe.

At least 17 Jews, including Jewish community leaders, have been executed since the Revolution, most accused of spying for Israel and the United States or on other charges. In a highly publicized incident, in 1979, Habib Alqanayan, a head of the Jewish community was executed. There have also been incidents of confiscation of Jewish property.

The leadership of the Iranian Jewish community has often been forced to publicly condemn Israel and take part in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist demonstrations.

International Affairs Division
March 2003

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