The trial of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel gets under way Monday behind closed doors, with officials continuing to insist it will be fair in the face of international misgivings.
"The hearing will take place in camera before the revolutionary court and in complete fairness," judiciary spokesman Hossein-Ali Amiri was quoted by the government daily Iran Sunday as saying.
"The justice system does not involve itself in politics and acts impartially and in complete independence," Amiri said, adding that the trial was behind closed doors for "security reasons".
"It is the judge's constitutional right to hold the trial behind closed doors, as the case pertains to national security matters. It is up to the judge," he said defense attorney Esmail Naseri told Reuters by telephone from Shiraz.
Prosecutors are expected to detail their espionage case against the defendants when the trial resumes in the southern city of Shiraz.
But lawyers and legal experts said the judge in the revolutionary court was certain to invoke Iran's national security interests and keep the proceedings behind closed doors.
That, and the paucity of details made public of the alleged espionage, has alarmed overseas Jewish groups and Western capitals, fearful the suspects will not get a fair hearing.
The trial opened on April 13, without the presence of three defendants who were on bail, but judge Sadeq Nurani adjourned it almost immediately at the request of defense lawyers who said they had been given no time to examine the evidence.
"We have now studied the files and met each of the accused in prison and we can say we are ready to conduct the defense," lawyer Said Karam-Nejad told AFP.
The 13 Jews, who were arrested more than a year ago at Shiraz, Isfahan and Tehran, are accused along with eight Iranian Muslims, who will be tried separately, according to judicial officials.
Judge Nurani turned down a request by Iran's Jewish community for the 10 held in jail to be released to celebrate the feast of the Passover last week with their families.
However he authorized them to mark the festival in prison.
"We sent them, via the court, religious books to enable them to celebrate their feast," Nasseri said. "They were selected in a Shiraz synagogue by a representative of the community."
Amiri told a press conference after the initial hearing that four of the leading defendants had confessed to spying for Israel, but defense lawyers promptly denied the statement.
The case has sparked deep concern among Iran's 35,000 Jews as well as abroad, with appeals from a number of countries, notably the European Union.
Iran has rejected them, saying they will receive a fair trial.
Although it is closed to the public, numbers of foreign journalists, especially from Europe and the United States, have arrived in Shiraz to cover the hearing.
The trial comes as political tension is running high in Iran between conservative and reformist factions ahead of a second round of parliamentary elections to be held on Friday.
Reformists are assured of a majority in the new parliament following the first round in February, but in recent days virtually all of their newspapers have been shut down on the orders of the conservative-controlled courts – (Agencies)
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