Iran’s supreme leader publicly labeled 13 Iranian Jews accused of espionage for Israel and the United States as “spies” this week — even as a senior judicial official stressed the jailed suspects were innocent until proven guilty.
The conflicting statements, both made during the visit of Austrian President Thomas Klestil to Iran this week, appeared to highlight the Jewish suspects’ role as pawns in an internal struggle between Islamic hard-liners and relative moderates in Iran.
Hadi Marvi, the new deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, told the Iran News Monday: “The 13 Iranian Jews who are under arrest are ‘accused’ of spying. We are not saying, ‘they are spies.’ ”
According to wire service reports, Marvi told the daily paper that “some” of the 13 had confessed to their crimes, but he gave no details. Those confessions, he said, provided the bulk of the case for espionage.
Nevertheless, Marvi told the newspaper, “Until the accusations are proven to be true in a court of law, they are considered ‘accused’ of spying. The trial has not been held yet.”
Some observers saw the remarks as timed to coincide with the high-profile state visit of Austria’s Klestil to Tehran on Monday. The comments also appeared to respond to a tough resolution passed by the European Parliament last week calling for the Jews’ release.
But during his meeting with Klestil, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khameini, told the Austrian leader that Iran “asks nobody’s permission to punish the spies,” referring to the Jews, who face execution if convicted of espionage.
“If their crime is proved by the court, they will probably be punished,” Khameini told Klestil after the Austrian voiced concerns about Iran’s human rights record over the spy case and other cases.
“Zionist agents are everywhere, in Austria too,” Khameini told his guest. “I know in Austria they have already carried out subversive activities,” he warned, according to wire service reports.
Marvi told the Iran News that the trial of the 13, long rumored as imminent, would not come anytime soon as several individuals linked to the case are outside the country. When it is held, he said, the accused would have the right to attorneys. The judge might also allow open hearings, he said. But as with other crimes of a political nature, the case would be decided by the judge and not by a jury, Marvi said.