Iranian Leader Denies Religion Behind Case 10 Jews Found Guilty of Spying for Israel

Article excerpt

WEIMAR, Germany -- At the end of a visit to Germany dominated by talk of human rights, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami denied yesterday that religion was behind the convictions of 10 Iranian Jews found guilty of spying for Israel.

Asked at a forum with German President Johannes Rau about whether the trial was a sign of prejudice against Iran's Jewish minority, Khatami said his government had no control over the judiciary in Iran.

But, he said, "They were not found guilty because of their religion," noting two Muslims were also convicted in the same trial.

He also described the sentences -- which ranged from four to 13 years for the Jews -- as relatively light, adding they could be reduced on appeal.

"We have often had spies that received very high sentences," he said. "At the beginning of the [1979 Islamic] revolution, spies were also executed."

The July 1 verdict has cast a pall over Iran's Jewish community of 25,000 -- the largest in the Mideast outside Israel -- and drawn concern from the United States and elsewhere. Israel has denied the suspects were spying and called for their release.

Critics have questioned the court's fairness because the months-long proceedings were closed to observers, there was no jury and the judge also acted as prosecutor.

The two Muslims were given two-year sentences. …