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Human Rights Watch today expressed concern over the detention and forthcoming trial of thirteen Iranian Jews accused of espionage.

In a letter to the head of Iran's Judiciary, Human Rights Watch asked Ayatollah Shahroudi not to let the detainees become "innocent casualties of political forces."

"We are concerned that these members of the Jewish minority have been singled out to make a political point," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa division. "Criminal trials should not be used as a gambit in the struggle within Iran's leadership. Trials should serve justice, not politics."

Human Rights Watch called on Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to release the thirteen prisoners if they are not promptly charged with internationally recognized criminal offenses. If the thirteen prisoners are to be brought to trial they should be given immediate access to legal counsel of their choosing and allowed visits from their families and independent doctors.

A copy of the letter is attached.

By Facsimile

H.E. Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Head of the Judiciary
Islamic Republic of Iran

September 2, 1999

Your Excellency:

I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Head of Iran's Judiciary, and express the hope that under your leadership steps will be taken to bring the justice system of the Islamic Republic of Iran more fully into compliance with international human rights standards. We look forward to working with you in the time ahead towards this end.

Human Rights Watch, an independent, nonpartisan organization working to uphold international human rights standards, is writing to you at this time to express its concern over the detention and reported forthcoming trial of thirteen Iranian Jews accused of involvement in espionage activities on behalf of the State of Israel. We are prompted to write by news reports that "thirteen Jews and a few Muslims" have been "handed over to the judiciary" for trial in Shiraz.

On June 18, 1999, Human Rights Watch wrote to your predecessor, Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, seeking assurances that the detention of these thirteen citizens was not founded upon their religious faith or their membership of a minority Jewish religious community. (A copy of the letter is attached.) As we received no response to that communication, we must reiterate our concern that the thirteen appear to be the victims of persecution because of their religion.

As we hope Your Excellency will understand, we are particularly concerned that these members of the Jewish minority may have been singled out for persecution to make a political point, as a gambit in what is widely described as a struggle within Iran's leadership, rather than to serve justice. We very much hope that Your Excellency make every effort to ensure that these individuals are not to become innocent casualties of political forces, domestic or international, for which they bear no personal responsibility.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the evidentiary basis for the detention of the thirteen men has never been made public, and that fundamental safeguards against arbitrary detention and to ensure fair trial have been disregarded, in violation of Iran's obligations under international law. Article 9 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which Iran is a party, provides that: "Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest …" Article 14 (3)(b) of the covenant requires: that anyone charged with a criminal offense will "have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing."

The thirteen prisoners have been held in detention without access to lawyers and without visits from their family members for more than five months.

Human Rights Watch calls on Your Excellency to release the thirteen prisoners if they are not promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offenses. If they are to be brought to trial, the full text of the charges against them should be made public and the defendants should be given all of the safeguards and guarantees provided for in international fair trial standards, including the right to communicate promptly and freely with legal counsel of their own choosing. If a trial is to take place we request permission to send international observers to attend.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter, and I look forward to your early response.



Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division

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