(RNS) Two weeks ago 10 Iranian Jews on trial for espionage received the expected verdict: conviction with sentences ranging from four to 13 years.
Outrage expressed by human rights groups, Jewish organizations and the U.S. government has focused on the lack of due process, primarily in that neither the defendants nor their lawyers had access to the evidence used in the case built against them. That outrage is appropriate, but it ought to be triggered in other cases as well.
While the case also served to highlight ongoing political tensions between reformists and conservatives, the criticism focuses squarely on the rule of law, or lack thereof. This problem of the legal system in Iran did not begin with this case. And a sidebar to the story line is that three Muslims were also convicted, additional victims of the same flawed system. In fact, the vast majority of victims of the legal system in Iran have been Muslims and so this past week's case presents nothing new.
Yet, because outside groups have rallied around this case to increase the pressure, the Iranian government at least responded by ruling out the death penalty at the outset. Unfortunately, advocates for the countless others whose lives hang in the balance are few and much less influential on a global scale.
But before we go too far in condemning the process in Iran, we need to confront the reality that a segment of the imprisoned population in the United States has fared no better than the 10 Iranian Jews. Twenty-five Muslims are being held in various prisons throughout this country based on the anti-terrorism law of 1996. As a result of that law, the government can use secret evidence. Neither the defendants nor their lawyers have access to the evidence used in the cases against them. Their prison sentences have now ranged from three to five years. The difference between the United States and Iran is that in the United States, when two of the cases finally went to trial, the judges recognized the blatant violation of civil rights and dismissed the charges against the defendants.
But those rights should have been guaranteed before the individual was 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 support of more than 100 members of Congress. Its aim is simple -- adhere to the Fifth Amendment and provide defendants the right of knowing what the charges are and who is accusing them. Justice can only be served in an open court, and perpetrators should be brought to justice without concealing the source of the accusations.
The United States is right to champion human rights and respect for the rule of law around the world.
But we need to be sure that we live up to the same standards lest accusations 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 bypassed surreptitiously when it needs to be applied here.