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Iran ignoring West's pleas for accused Jewish spies

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran repeated on Tuesday that it would not cave in to pressure from Western countries for the release of 13 Iranian Jews arrested as alleged Israeli spies.

"The pressure and propaganda by the West will have no effect on the court proceedings against the suspects," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said."This is an internal affair, and the arrests of these people have nothing to do with their religion. They will be guaranteed justice as suspects in other cases," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

"As Westerners say they have independent courts, we expect them to respect our judiciary."

Asefi said on Monday it would not accept meddling in the case by France or other Western countries after French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said on Sunday the arrest of the Jews was intolerable.

Conservative Iranian officials including judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi have spoken of the suspects, who were arrested several months ago, as spies and said they deserved to hang.

Officials say those arrested in connection to the case include Muslims but they have not revealed the names of the suspects or the nature of the evidence against them.

The arrests have provoked mounting international criticism against Iran at a time when moderate President Mohammad Khatami is seeking to end 20 years of estrangement with the West.

Khatami has so far kept silent on the case, but he has repeatedly pledged support for the rights of Iranian religious minorities, including Jews.