The trial of 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying or offences against national security, opened and adjourned after little more than an hour Thursday, will resume on May 1, court spokesman Hossein-Gholi Amiri said.
Amiri said earlier that defence lawyers had asked for an adjournment at the beginning of the hearing.
The spokesman for the lawyers had told AFP that they were seeking more time to prepare the case as they had only been given the files on Tuesday.
The Jews, some of whom face the death penalty if convicted of spying for Iran's arch-enemies: the United States and Israel, are tried in secret before a hard-line revolutionary court in the southern city of Shiraz, the press office of the Tehran law courts told AFP Wednesday.
"In line with the decision of the judge of the revolutionary court, the trial will be held in camera and information about its proceedings will be supplied by the court authorities of Fars province", of which Shiraz is the capital, an official said earlier.
In a statement issued in Shiraz on Wednesday, reported Iranian news agency (IRNA), Fars Province's justice department presented some details on a number of
Jews charged with spying, including their full and nick names.
“On February 2nd the suspects were told to appoint defense lawyers for themselves for the court hearing; while only some of them agreed to do so, they did not name any lawyers when the deadline was due.
“Even though it was not obliged to, the court, in a humanitarian move, asked the families of the suspects and the head of Iran and Shiraz societies of Jews to appoint lawyers for the suspects after the announced deadline,” said the statement.
but the judge may not respond until Thursday when the hearing opens," told AFP.
Asked about the trial taking place in camera, one of the defendants' lawyers Ismail Nasseri said, "It is the law which requires a trial dealing with state security to be held behind closed doors, and we cannot insist on the opposite."
Nasseri is one of four lawyers appointed by eight of the accused. Two others have had lawyers appointed by the local bar at the request of the court, and the remaining three are reportedly undefended so far.
Amiri said those without lawyers were out on bail, and had failed to select their own. He explained that people who were not in prison were not entitled to state-appointed lawyers.
Asked about the evidence, Nasseri said it included "confessions by the accused and other elements proving the existence of espionage, but without direct contacts with witnesses, and the presence of police officers, we cannot reach a definite conclusion."
The Jews, accused of belonging to a sophisticated, high-tech spy ring, are charged along with eight Muslims who will be tried separately.
Their arrest last March and April was not made public until reported in the Western press in June.
Since then, Iran has rejected international outrage over the charges as "interference" in its internal affairs while Iranian judiciary officials have offered sometimes contradictory statements about the state's case against them.
Earlier this month the justice ministry said only "one or two" of the suspects would be charged with espionage, with the remainder accused of acting against national security -- a lesser charge that carries a maximum 10 years in prison.
ISRAEL SEEKS HELP FROM EGYPT
On Thursday, The Jerusalem Post reported that Infrastructure Minister Eli Suissa presented Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday with a personal appeal from Shas's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to assist the Jews facing trial.
Yosef armed Suissa with a letter which, according to the few individuals who have seen it, has a "pleading tone." Sources close to Suissa said the minister intends to devote the majority of his scheduled hour-plus-long meeting to this issue. He will request that Mubarak initiate contact with the Iranian administration.
Also in support of the their brothers, Some 300 Jews gathered together to pray in the great Rabi Zadeh synagogue in Shiraz on the eve of the trial.
The men all wore the Jewish skullcap, and both hope and fear could be read in their faces, for the accused face serious charges, and some of them even risk the death sentence for spying and actions against state security.
"I shall only be able to talk and comment about it after the trial. For the moment all we can do is place our trust in Islamic justice, which has promised a fair trial," said Nik-Nava.
The southern town of Shiraz is home to some 6,000 Jews, and has had a Jewish community for 2,700 years,
Meanwhile the police chief who arrested the suspects in Shiraz, the center of Iran's 35,000-strong Jewish community, died in a helicopter crash on the same day that their trial date was announced.
Both Israel and the United States deny the suspects were spying for them, and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy has asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to help set the 13 free.
The former chairman of the French constitutional council, Robert Badinter, had announced plans to attend the trial as an observer on behalf of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues – (Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)