Iran, Under Pressure, Releases Five Jews Accused of Spying

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Five Iranian Jews arrested in 1999 on charges of spying for Israel and the U.S. got out of prison this week, sources confirmed.

The five were among 13 Iranians Jews arrested four years ago. Three of the original 13 were acquitted at their trials in July 2000, while the other 10 were given sentences of between four and 13 years.

The case drew worldwide attention and condemnation, as the international community accused Iran of fabricating the charges. At the time, there was fear that the 13 might even be executed.

At their trial in a military court -- a trial without jury or witnesses -- prosecutors dropped charges involving the U.S. and focused instead on the spying-for-Israel charges.

Five of those imprisoned had been released earlier, and on Wednesday evening, the last five were released.

"The news has been checked and is true," said Menashe Amir, head of the Persian language news service at the Voice of Israel radio.

Nevertheless, Amir warned that unless the release is made public by an official announcement it could be retracted at any time and the five could be re-arrested.

"They were told to go home and take all their belongings, but nothing in Iran is sure," Amir said. "There are so many different groups, nobody knows if somebody is released that he won't be arrested again."

If the release is for real, Amir said, then he believes it was brought about by heavy pressure on Iran from the international community and by the fact that a human rights delegation from the United Nations was visiting Iran this week.

"[They wanted] to show they are respecting human rights," Amir said.

"The government knew [the 10] hadn't committed any crime... The so-called confessions were taken by promising they would release them and then used them to convict them," he said. Several of the prisoners made televised confessions.

"They wanted to get rid of this burden," he said. It was a burden because they knew the ten hadn't committed any crime, he added.

With an estimated 25,000 Jews, Iran has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel - less than a third of the 80,000 Jews who lived in Iran on the eve of the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Iranian leaders openly call for the destruction of the State of Israel. Since Israel became a state in 1948, some 76,000 Iranian Jews have immigrated to Israel.

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