Relatives Break Silence on 11 Missing Iranian Jews

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After years of silence, families and friends of eleven missing Iranian Jews have decided to launch a public campaign pressuring Iran to free their loved ones.

The missing Jews, several of whom were in their teens at the time, disappeared in separate incidents from 1994 to 1997 while trying to escape from Iran over the Pakistani border.

The first publicized word of the eleven missing Jews came in September 2000 when Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, brought up the subject with Mehdi Kharroubi, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament. Kharroubi, who was visiting New York, reportedly said he would look into the issue.

This issue now joins the ongoing public lobbying efforts on behalf of the thirteen Jews jailed in 1999 on charges of spying for Israel – three of whom have since been released from prison. Since that jailing of the thirteen took center stage, little has been heard publicly about the missing eleven.

“The families have lost patience, and we’ve lost hope that those responsible elements in Iran will release these prisoners voluntarily,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation. “We are therefore in need of international support.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Kermanian and his Los Angeles-based organization are trying to build a coalition which will include other Jewish organizations, human-rights watchdogs, the United Nations, and foreign governments to exert pressure on Iran’s ruling mullahs.

“The families made the decision that they feel they have nothing left to lose, and I agree,” said Hoenlein, who was expected to deliver a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the missing Jews this week.

Kermanian defended his decision to keep the plight of the eleven quiet until now while lobbying behind the scenes. “There is no doubt that had we gone public before having sufficient evidence, the first reaction by those holding them, out of fear they would be held responsible internally, might be to get rid of ‘evidence’ — killing the prisoners and getting rid of their bodies,” Kermanian said. “They’ve done that before, where the bodies of reporters, political dissidents and others surfaced months later.”

Kermanian also stated that activists have heard eyewitness accounts from people who saw the missing Jews both in Zahedan, where they were reportedly first detained, and also later in Tehran. According to the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s latest information, the eleven Jews were seen alive in a Tehran prison earlier this year. Those reports have been corroborated by Iranian judiciary and intelligence sources, Kermanian said.

The missing Jews are:

Babak Shaoulin Tehrani, 28, of Tehran

Shaheen Nikkhou, 29, of Tehran

Behzad Salary, 30, of Kermanshah

Farhad Ezzati, 31, of Kermanshah

Homayoon Balazadeh, 45, of Shiraz

Omid Solouki, 24, of Shiraz

Reuben,26 and Ebrahim,25 Kohen-Maslikh, brothers from Shiraz

Nourollah Rabizadeh-Felfeli, age unknown, of Kermanshah

Cyrus, 64 and Ebrahim, 66 Ghahramani, brothers from Kermanshah

A 12th Jew, Eshagh Hassid, 66, of Hamadan, last spoke with his sister in February 1997 and reportedly indicated he would try to leave the country. The IAJF considers his fate unclear, so he hasn’t been included on the official list.

Escape across Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan is extremely common. “Everybody chooses this route for different reasons, but thousands of Jews and millions of non-Jews have left Iran through these means,” Kermanian said.

Iran has always made it difficult for Jews to emigrate, often requiring one family member to stay in the country as an assurance that the rest of the family would return.

The Jewish population in Iran has dwindled to about 20,000 from 100,000 before the Islamic revolution in 1979.




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