AP: Seven Bahai leaders arrested and accused of endangering national security are being persecuted by Iran's government for their religious beliefs, leaders of the minority faith said Thursday.
The Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Seven Bahai leaders arrested and accused of endangering national security are being persecuted by Iran's government for their religious beliefs, leaders of the minority faith said Thursday.
Iran raided the homes of top Bahai leaders on May 14 and threw six of them in the notorious Evin prison north of Tehran, according to Bahai officials. A seventh leader was detained March 5, the officials said.
An Iranian government spokesman said the arrests aimed to defend Iran's national security and had "nothing to do with ideological issues."
"This is an organized group that has acted against the country's interests and has connections with foreigners, especially the Zionists," spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said Tuesday at a news conference.
The religion, founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman, has a headquarters in Israel and has been banned in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The Bahai International Community issued a statement Thursday saying "allegations by Iran that six Bahais were arrested for security reasons and not for their faith are utterly baseless and without documentation."
Last January, Iran sentenced more than 50 followers of the Bahai faith to prison for proselytizing and distributing propaganda against the country's ruling Islamic establishment, according to Iranian judicial authorities. Another 51 Bahai followers were given one-year suspended prison terms following their detention in Shiraz, southern Iran.
Bani Dugal, the Bahai envoy to the United Nations, accused the Iranian government of seeking to uproot Bahais because of their faith.
"The documented plan of the Iranian government has always been to destroy the Bahai community, and these latest arrests represent an intensification of this plan … The group of Bahais arrested … are being persecuted solely because of their religious beliefs," Dugal said Thursday by telephone from Geneva.
The seven detained are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeed Rezaei, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Vahid Tizfam and Mahvash Sabet, according to Bahai leaders.
Naeim Tavakkoli, son of one of those detained, said he was worried about his 57-year-old father's health in prison.
"This is completely a lie to relate Bahais to national security affairs," Tavakkoli said in an e-mail from the U.S.
On Wednesday, the European Union called on Iran to stop persecuting Bahais and release those detained.
"The EU reiterates its serious concern about the continuing systematic discrimination and harassment of the Iranian Bahais on the grounds of their religion," an EU statement said.
The Bahai faith was founded by the Persian nobleman Baha'u'llah, who claimed to be a new prophet in the series that included Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam considers Muhammad to be the last of the prophets.
In 1868, several Bahais were exiled to Palestine, now Israel, where they built shrines in Haifa, which they now consider a holy city.
Iran had been the cradle of the Bahai faith in the middle of the 19th century, but after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the faith was banned.
It is not recognized in the Iranian constitution as a religious minority, while Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians are recognized as religious minorities who have their own lawmakers in parliament.
The Bahai faith has 5 to 6 million believers worldwide.