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February 17, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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February 17, 2000

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cove Prisoners of Zion The local community is torn between quiet diplomacy and intervention for- 13 Jews being held in Iran. By Shidn Danielpour THE case of the 13 Jews, arrested in March last year, has triggered numerous protests around the world, which have been continually reject- ed by Iran. The 13 Jews were arrested on espionage charges in Shiraz, a southern city in Iran. The suspects were said to have been spying for Israel and the United States. The victims include rabbis, Hebrew teach- ers and a 16-year-old boy. A conviction for espionage charges carries the death penalty in Iran. Upon their arrest, the Iranian government said they will appear before a revolutionary court "in the coming weeks". Despite \\;. the government's announcement, there has not been a trial date set. Family members of the 13 who live in Beverly Hills and their support- ers have put a cry out for help. Although they refuse to make comments, in fear of their safety, local activists have been demanding the release of the prisoners from their initial arrest. Months before these arrests, the Shirazi Jews were allegedly warned against their religious practices. In Iran, Jews are considered second class citizens with limited rights and protection. The Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran, which is based in Los Angeles, reports that five Jewshave been executed in the past five years in Iran. They claim that two of the executions were conspiring to promote "corruption, prostitution, economic crisis, democratic liberties and modernism." Due to staunch efforts led by the Council of Iranian Jewish Organizations and the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran, three of the suspects have been released on bail on February 2 "because the charges against them were less serious than the others," the official IRNA news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Mohammed Mir-Sadeqi as saying. "1 am hopeful. These accusations are all aimed against teachers of Hebrew. How could teachers of Hebrew be spies?," Manushehr Eliasi, who represents the Jewish community in the Iranian parliament, said. Tehran radio quoted President Khatami as saying that he was respon- sible for the protection of all religious minorities in Iran. Nevertheless, Islamic militants have staged demonstrations in Tehran, calling for the execution of the alleged 13 spies. Iranian officials have not detailed the evidence against the suspects, which has raised concern among western governments and human rights groups that they would not be given a fair trial. On the Westside, however, there are two camps with opposing beliefs. Should the Iranian community actively get involved to save the prisoners or keep their mouths shut? THE TWO CAMPS The Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations and the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran, which are both local organizations com- posed of Beverly Hills businessmen, lawyers and journalists, believe that it is the moral obligation of Jews in Western countries to intervene and keep the story alive. They are demanding the unconditional release of the ! 3 Jews. "If Iran goes through with these trial, they will be deemed as sham trials unless a neutral foreign defense attorney is present with access to the files," Frank Nikbakht, a member of the Commiuee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran whohas a business in Beverly Hills, said. "Iranian defense attorneys have no protection for their lives. They won't be able to defend them properly." This group warns that if they stay quiet the concept of human rights will be ignored within the Islamic government in Iran. "If the i 3 Jews are not released there will be mass demonstrations here in Los Angeles revolting against the Iranian government next month on the anniver- sary of their arrest," Nikbakht said. The Iranian-American Jewish Federation, however, opposes this view. Instead, they believe in Quiet Diplomacy, which means the government can only be pressured by the "real" powers of the world. "We want to handle it through diplomatic channels, but in a quiet manner," Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Federation, said. This belief system falls within the theory of working behind the scenes rather than making noise on the exterior. They feel it will be counterproductive to stage demonstrations and pressure the Iranian government. The Federation believes that anything that provokes reaction in Iran will be detrimental. "Showing public reaction to these arrests would be rewarding to them [the Iranian government] for what they've done. The more public reaction, the more radical they'll be," Kermanian said. If the 13 Jews are not released there will be mass demonstrations here in Los Angeles revolting against the Iranian government next month on the anniversary of their arrest." ..... -- Frank Nikbakht a member of the Committee for Religious Minodty Rights in Iran A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE Amnesty International disagrees with the theory behind Quiet Diplomacy. Upon the arrests of the 13 Jews, Amnesty International put out a public 10 Beverly Hills Weekly