Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Iran's judiciary has announced that 13 Iranian Jews and eight Muslims accused of spying for Israel and the United States will come to trial next month.
They were arrested a year ago accused of espionage but never officially charged with a crime. The U.S. and Israel have vehemently denied any connection with the accused. Three Jews, including a 16-year-old boy, were released on bail last month.
Iranian state television quoted a judiciary spokesman Hossein Mir-Mohammed Sadeqi as saying that the trial would open on April 13.
Malcolm Hoenlein of the Presidents Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations said it appeared the announcement was genuine.
Hoenlein, who has spearheaded an international campaign to free the Jews, told CNSNews.com the families of the accused had been told earlier this week to retain lawyers by the end of the week.
"They will be able to get [lawyers]. Some of the families were reluctant. They are afraid it looks like an admission of guilt," Hoenlein said, but he added that the families were being helped by the Jewish community there.
The fate of the Jews has been hanging in the balance for a year while they remained incarcerated without charge.
Mier Litvak, a senior politics researcher at Tel Aviv University, told CNSNews.com it was impossible to say whether or not the recent success of reformers in Iranian parliamentary elections would bode well for the accused.
It could be better for them because of the reformists' election victory, but it could be worse because hardliners may want to flex their muscles and show that they still have power over the judiciary, Litvak said.
Reformists allied to President Mohammed Khatami won a majority in the Iranian parliament two weeks ago, for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Khatami, who has pushed for social and political reforms, has promised the Jews will get a fair trial.
But Hoenlein agreed that the reformist victory did not guarantee justice for the 13. He said he hoped legal observers and experts in Islamic law from other countries would be admitted to the trial.
Diplomats have been quoted as saying that the case has been hostage to the power struggle between reformists and hard-liners in the government.
"This is a trial of Khatami's system of justice and the rule of law," Hoenlein said, adding that the 13 were innocent.
He noted that the man responsible for bringing the charges against the Jews had not been re-elected.