Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that 13 Jews being held in Iran on charges of spying for Israel have passed secret military information to foreigners but that they are "guaranteed" a fair trial, Iran's state media reported today.
Kharrazi outlined the charges in separate letters to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the foreign ministers of unnamed countries and other U.N. and European Union officials, the reports said. The letters, sent in an apparent move to ease Western concern over the arrests and mounting pressure for the suspects' release, also assured the recipients that the accused would get a fair trial.
The arrests have threatened to undermine efforts by President Mohammed Khatemi, a political moderate, to end 20 years of estrangement between Iran and the West. Khatemi has kept silent on the matter thus far, but he has repeatedly pledged support for the rights of Iranian religious minorities, including Jews.
"The charges against these people have nothing to do with their religion or political affiliations. . . . They were arrested on charges of illegally gathering secret information, including military information, and handing [it] over to foreigners," Kharrazi was quoted as saying by Tehran radio.
"Demands for the suspects' release before legal proceedings are completed are . . . an insult to the Iranian government's sovereignty rights in seeking to deal legally and effectively with threats against the country's national security." The official IRNA news agency quoted Kharrazi further as saying that "Iran guarantees the accused will receive a fair trial with all assurances linked to a correct legal proceeding."
Senior conservative Iranian officials have spoken of the suspects, who were arrested several months ago, as spies and said they deserve to hang. Some officials say those being held in connection with the case include Muslims, but they have not identified the suspects or disclosed the nature of the evidence against them.