The Canadian government on Saturday expressed its "serious concerns" over the guilty verdicts and prison terms given to 12 Iranians accused of espionage, most of them Iranian Jews.
Thirteen Iranian Jews and four Muslims were tried in a closed-door hearing by a revolutionary court in the Iranian city of Shiraz.
When the court delivered its verdict early Saturday, ten out of the 13 Jews were given jail terms ranging from four to 13 years on charges of spying for Israel. Two Muslims were given two-year sentences.
Three Jews and two Muslims on trial were acquitted.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said in a statement: "Canada has serious concerns about the manner in which the trials were conducted and the verdicts arrived at."
The statement said the "lack of transparency in the original trials was particularly disturbing given repeated assurances by Iranian officials that they would be open to the public and to international observers."
The hearing had not been open to the public, and the accused had been detained for a year before the trial without access to lawyers and only limited contact with their families, Axworthy said.
"We urge the Government of Iran to allow for greater transparency and openness during the appeals process," he added, noting that Canada will continue to monitor events closely.
Axworthy said that since the election of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, there had been progress made in implementing political and economic reform.
However, Iran should intensify its efforts "to improve civil and human rights in keeping with the wishes of the Iranian people," he said.
According to the court's verdict, those convicted had belonged to a spy ring dating back more than 20 years, collecting sensitive military information from around Shiraz in the south and Ispahan in the center.
The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), a community organization, has strongly criticized the attitude of the Iranian authorities in the case and has urged the Canadian government to demand that those convicted be freed. Failing that, CJC has pressed the government to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran -- OTTAWA (AFP)
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