WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. State Department lambasted Iran on Monday (Jan. 11) for deciding to try seven members of the Baha’i Faith on charges of spying for Israel, and called on Iran to release all religious minorities imprisoned because of their faith.
“The United States strongly condemns the Iranian government’s decision to commence the espionage trial against seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community,” Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said in a statement.
Crowley said the seven Baha’is have been imprisoned for 20 months, with no public evidence presented against them and little access to legal counsel. Reports indicate as many as 48 Baha’is are currently imprisoned in Iran, Crowley said.
The trial began Tuesday. Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i Faith’s United Nations representative, told Baha’i World News Service that no observers were allowed in court.
“We are deeply concerned about Iran’s ongoing persecution of Baha’is and treatment of other members of religious minorities who continue to be targeted solely on the basis of their beliefs,” Crowley said.
Six of the seven Baha’i detainees were arrested in their Tehran homes in May 2008; the other was arrested in March of that year. All seven have been held in prison ever since. Iranian authorities have charged them with espionage and “corruption on earth,” an Islamic term for crimes punishable by death in Iran, according to The Associated Press.
The Baha’i Faith, which was founded in 1860 by a Persian aristocrat, counts some 5 million members worldwide. It has been banned in Iran since 1979, when Islamic clerics seized power.
The U.S. Commission on International Freedom, an independent watchdog group appointed by Congress and the White House, also said it is “extremely concerned about the fate of the seven Baha’is.”
“It appears that the Iranian government has already predetermined the outcome,” said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo, “and is once again using its courts as an instrument of religious persecution.”
— Daniel Burke
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