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April 20, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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cove Passover: Freedom for All? As many celebrate their bondage out of Egypt, the 13 Jews in Iran can only pray for freedom in their isolated cells. By Shirin Danielpour Passover, which celebrates the Israelite's exodus from Egypt, is the pivotal event in Jewish history. It freed our ancestors from more than 200 years of slavery and defined us as a nation. It marks a new year and a new beginning in the Jewish faith. Moses' cry for freedom sounds thunder again in modern times, thousands of years after the exodus from Egypt as 13 Jews are being held captive in Iran. Over a year ago, 13 Jews, including a 16-year-old boy, a rabbi and Hebrew teachers were arrested in Shiraz, a southern city in Iran, on espionage charges. The conviction for espionage carries the death penalty in Iran. The victims were said to have been spy- ing for.Israel and the United States. Both of these countries have denied such "ridiculous" charges. The Beverly Hills Weekly first covered this story in issue #20 "Prisoners of Zion". Recent developments in the case have led us to reexamine exactly what is being done on the prisoners' behalf. On Saturday April 8, the prosecuting judge reportedly paid a visit to the prisoners to congratulate them for Passover. As a result, the prisoners agreed to court appointed lawyers, when they were ini- tially promised representation of their choice. The revolutionary court where the 13 will be tried has no jury. The court appointed four attorneys to defend the accused, two of whom are former judges of the revolutionary court. In a similar case three years ago, two Jews were executed. Except for five-minute weekly supervised visits with their fami- lies, the prisoners have had no contact with the outside world for 14 months. The trial, which was scheduled for April 13 has been postponed to May 1 at the request of the defendants' attorneys, who claim the files were given to them on Tuesday and they are not prepared to defend their clients. When a bus pulled up in front of the court car- rying the victims, last Thursday, their families desperately pushed ahead to see the faces they had not seen in over a year. LOCAL FREEDOM RALLY Congressman Brad Sherman (D-St',erman Oaks) addresses the crowd Last Sunday afternoon, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hundreds of people from all walks of life collaborated in solidarity with the 13 Jewish captives in Shiraz, Iran. Both Jews and non-Jews gathered for an emergency vigil at the Simon Wiesenthal Center to demand the freedom of the Shiraz 13. The Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations (CIAJO), the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and other Jewish organizations sponsored the event. CIAJO, which represents the largest Jewish-Iranian organizations in the nation, was the first to advocate intervention for the unjust arrest of the 13 Jews. The trial, which was initially supposed to be open to the public, will be held behind closed doors. According to the American Jewish Congress, there is no 10 Beverly Hills Weekly reason for Iran to shut the door of the court except that they know there is no evidence against the 13. "We say today to the judicial authorities in Iran - if you have evidence then let the world see it in an open hearing and let those accused fully defend themselves, as is their right. But if you have no evidence as we sus- pect is the case, then send them home to their families and end their suffer- ing now," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The trail comes during shaky times in Iran; there is a power struggle between President Khatami's reformist wing and anti-American hard-liners. The judiciary is controlled by the hard-liners. The United States has con- demned the arrests and warned that the results of the trial could affect their future relationship. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) who mocked the accusa- tion of the innocent 13 as spies at the rally on Sunday, has been working diligently to pass a resolution to free the 13. Congress will consider a reso- lution next month for the release of the 13. "We look forward to a wanner relationship.., a relationship of peace and prosperity, but the first step is to free the 13," Congressman Sherman said. "Let my people go." The event closed as the crowd joined in a prayer for the well-being of the Shiraz 13. Rabbi Marvin Heir mentioned that at the end of the Passover Seder we must ask, "who knows the 13?" to which we should all reply "I know 13." THE ROLE OF WOMEN Not only will the 13 be remembered this Passover, but women will gain more visual praise as well. It is often forgotten that women played a crucial role in the exodus from Egypt. Our sages tell us, Bishveel Nashim Tzidkaniot Nigalu Avoteinu Mimitzrayim, which means, "Our forefathers