Lawyers defending Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel are worried by the delay in winding up the trial and announcing a verdict in the southern city of Shiraz, their spokesman told AFP.
They also maintain that no proof has emerged to corroborate the "confessions" of the accused, and contest their validity, said Ismael Nasseri, 40.
"We are worried by the delay. It would seem that the revolutionary court wants to drag things out, as if they are looking for new arguments," he said.
The head and spokesman of the judiciary in Shiraz, Hossein-Ali Amiri, said Sunday an "answer" requested from the authorities was expected Thursday and that the verdict would be given a week later. He did not say what the "answer" would cover.
The defence lawyer nevertheless expressed "optimism" over the verdict, saying the charge of spying had been disproved throughout the trial, from its opening on April 13 to the final session June 13.
The 13 people charged, ten of whom have been in custody for a year, with three out on bail, initially faced the charge of being "Mohareb", meaning they "waged war against God and the country" by spying for Israel, which Iran considers to be a "usurper" of Palestinian land.
That charge, which carried the death penalty, faded away after the opening hearings.
There is also the straightforward charge of spying, but the lawyers believe they have proved that does not stand up.
Nasseri argued that the practice of spying does not gell with that of operating a network. "A spy knows only the person above and the person below him. But we are told that our clients have been meeting together as a network for the last 20 years," he added.
The defense attacked the "confessions," which were televised and received wide media coverage, as being "in violation of the closed door hearing that the court wanted."
Nasseri said these "are not proof, and are not corroborated." Eight of the accused made confessions, but "after eight months in prison, people can say anything."
The only charge that could be argued and "the only one laid down in law which could concern them" is that of "collecting confidential information and transmitting it to an enemy country," he said.
"That carries a prison term of one to 10 years ... but there are no documents proving their guilt. And it would have to be shown that we are at war with Israel, which has no soldiers on our borders," he said.
But Nasseri admitted, "We are very alone in this business, and even our families and public opinion have a job understanding us."
"But we are doing our duty in full awareness. We are defending Jews, poor people living as a minority, peaceable but fearful."
He recalled that Jews have lived in Shiraz for thousands of years, and even helped found it.
Explaining his own role, he cited the example of the first Shiite imam Ali, who upbraided one of his followers for condemning Jews just because they were Jews.
On the international front, Nasseri said "the political declarations, seen as interference and blackmailing of Iran, which has great national pride, were negative for public opinion and worked against the interest of the accused."
He cited "the attitude of (US Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright" in particular.
But he said the defense "appreciates non-political intervention, carried out in the name of human rights, or through diplomacy." -- SHIRAZ, Iran (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)