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Iran says identifies, detains U.S., Israeli spies

Reuters | February 8, 2007

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's intelligence minister said Iran had identified 100 people he described as U.S. and Israeli agents and said some were arrested trying to leave Iran to attend "spying" courses abroad, state TV reported on Thursday.

Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has previously warned about a "velvet revolution" -- a supposed U.S. plot to use intellectuals and others inside the country to bring about "regime change".

Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei was quoted by state television as saying Iran had "identified 100 American and Israeli spies at the Iranian border. They were planning to obtain military and political information within Iran".

He did not give any nationalities and it was not clear to which border point he referred, but several Iranian activists and journalists in recent weeks have been detained or barred from leaving Iran at airports on the way to courses abroad.

"We were able to identify and arrest all those who were leaving the country with the excuse of passing educational courses and with the aim of attending spying training courses," Mohseni-Ejei told a gathering of clerics in the city of Qom.

In statement on Thursday from its New York headquarters, Human Rights Watch urged the Iranian government to lift foreign travel bans that prevented rights activists and journalists from attending international forums.

"The Iranian government is effectively putting the country's civil society leaders under national house arrest," the group's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in the statement.

The U.S. group cited the case of Hashem Aghajari, who the Iranian news agency ISNA reported had been stopped at an airport earlier this month on his way to attend a conference in the United States at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told Reuters last month three Iranian journalists, all detained in January when they were leaving for a journalism training course in India, were facing trial in April for acting against national security. The three, who were also women's rights activists, have been released on bail, said Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Last year, Canadian-Iranian writer Ramin Jahanbegloo was detained for four months for alleged involvement in the "velvet revolution", unnerving many activists and government critics. He was also detained at an airport.

Some Iranians working for non-governmental organizations say they are now more wary of traveling to conferences abroad for fear it could land them in trouble with the authorities.

Rights groups often complain that Tehran imprisons pro-reform writers, journalists and intellectuals without due legal process. Iran routinely dismisses accusations of rights violations and says it does not hold any political prisoners.

 

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