Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The trial of thirteen Iranian Jews charged with espionage was set to open Thursday, behind closed doors, in the southwest Iranian city of Shiraz.
International advocates for the release of the Jews had called for an open trial with international observers, but judicial officials said that the trial in the Shiraz Revolutionary Court will be closed for "security reasons."
Lawyers for the 13 plan to appeal for a postponement when the hearing opens because several of them were appointed just days ago and have not had enough time to study the case.
""We need time to prepare our defense statement. We only started studying files on [Tuesday] and will continue doing so," attorney Esmail Naseri was quoted as saying.
The 13 Jews and eight Moslems were arrested a year ago, accused of spying for Israel, a crime that carries the death penalty. However, the exact charges against them have never been made public. Israel vehemently denies having had any contact with the accused.
Western leaders, who feared the 13 would not receive a fair trial, raised an international outcry to free the Jews - primarily teachers and leaders in the Jewish community - and focused world attention on their plight.
Three of the suspects were freed on bail several months ago, signaling that the charges against them may be reduced. Last week, a judicial official indicated that the charges and sentences could be different for some of the defendants.
The case is being viewed in the West as a test of moderate President Mohammed Khatamy's reform policies.
See Earlier Story
Not All Iranian Jewish Suspects To Be Charged With Spying (April 7, 2000)