(RNS) Two weeks ago 10 Iranian Jews on trial for espionagereceived the expected verdict: conviction with sentences ranging fromfour to 13 years.
Outrage expressed by human rights groups, Jewish organizations andthe U.S. government has focused on the lack of due process, primarily inthat neither the defendants nor their lawyers had access to the evidenceused in the case built against them. That outrage is appropriate, but itought to be triggered in other cases as well.
While the case also served to highlight ongoing political tensionsbetween reformists and conservatives, the criticism focuses squarely onthe rule of law, or lack thereof. This problem of the legal system inIran did not begin with this case. And a sidebar to the story line isthat three Muslims were also convicted, additional victims of the sameflawed system. In fact, the vast majority of victims of the legal systemin Iran have been Muslims and so this past week's case presents nothingnew.
Yet, because outside groups have rallied around this case toincrease the pressure, the Iranian government at least responded byruling out the death penalty at the outset. Unfortunately, advocates forthe countless others whose lives hang in the balance are few and muchless influential on a global scale.
But before we go too far in condemning the process in Iran, we needto confront the reality that a segment of the imprisoned population inthe United States has fared no better than the 10 Iranian Jews.Twenty-five Muslims are being held in various prisons throughoutthis country based on the anti-terrorism law of 1996. As a result ofthat law, the government can use secret evidence. Neither the defendantsnor their lawyers have access to the evidence used in the cases againstthem. Their prison sentences have now ranged from three to five years.The difference between the United States and Iran is that in theUnited States, when two of the cases finally went to trial, the judgesrecognized the blatant violation of civil rights and dismissed thecharges against the defendants.
But those rights should have been guaranteed before the individualwas ever arrested.
The Secret Evidence Repeal Act, co-sponsored by Reps. David Bonior,D-Mich., and Tom Campbell, R-Calif., has now gained the official supportof more than 100 members of Congress. Its aim is simple -- adhere to theFifth Amendment and provide defendants the right of knowing what thecharges are and who is accusing them. Justice can only be served in anopen court, and perpetrators should be brought to justice withoutconcealing the source of the accusations.
The United States is right to champion human rights and respect forthe rule of law around the world.
But we need to be sure that we live up to the same standards lestaccusations of hypocrisy enable others to turn a deaf ear. Otherwise,the cause for human rights will be viewed by the rest of the world,especially the Muslim world, as a political instrument of intimidation,invoked when it is applied against Muslim countries, and bypassedsurreptitiously when it needs to be applied here.