3 Iranian-Americans Accused of Spying

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 29, 2007; 8:51 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Three Iranian-Americans, including U.S. academic Haleh Esfandiari, have been charged with endangering national security and espionage, Iran's judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.

The charges, which were denied by relatives and colleagues, were another example of Iran's stepped up accusations that the U.S. is trying to use internal critics to destabilize the government.

"Esfandiari has been formally charged with endangering national security through propaganda against the system and espionage for foreigners. ... The complainant is the Intelligence Ministry," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters.

"She has been informed of the charges against her," he said in response to a reporter's question.

Jamshidi did not say when the allegations had been read to Esfandiari, who is the director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. She has been held at Tehran's Evin Prison since early May.

Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, said the allegations were "totally without foundation."

"I think it certainly ratchets up the case against her several notches in a rather menacing way, and is therefore very worrisome," Bakhash said from his home in Potomac, Md.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it had no information about any formal charges being lodged but urged the detainees' release.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the treatment of Esfandiari and the other Iranian-Americans "a perversion of the rule of law."

"These are people who are there trying to make life better in Iran," Rice told reporters en route to Berlin. "These are not people engaged in espionage."

She added that the detentions are "wholly unconnected" to the U.S. military detention of five men it claims are Iranian intelligence agents in Iraq.

Lee H. Hamilton, president of the Wilson Center, said Esfandiari's detention was "an affront to the rule of law and common decency."

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