(RNS) The U.S. government's Commission on International Religious Freedom called Thursday (Feb. 24) for the State Department and the United Nations to condemn Iran's persecution of members of the Bahai faith.

According to the commission, a revolutionary court in Mashdad has sentenced three Bahais to death for unspecified anti-security acts three times. Iran's Supreme Court overturned the convictions in the first two rounds but has not overturned the third convictions for the three men.

According to the commission and reports filed by the Associated Press, two of the men were arrested in 1997 for holding monthly Bahai "family life" meetings and have been imprisoned ever since. Another man arrested last year was also tried. The final 20-day window for appeals expired Wednesday (Feb. 23).

The religion, which claims about 6.4 million adherents around the world, was founded in 1844 in present-day Iran. Bahai teaches that the world's religions all lead to the path of truth, and believers stress peace and the unity of all faiths.

The Iranian government does not recognize the religion as a minority faith but considers it an Islamic heresy. The commission claims believers are routinely persecuted and nearly 200 Bahais have been executed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The Bahais on death row must be freed without delay and the systemic persecution of the Bahai community must stop," said the commission's chairman, Rabbi David Saperstein. "The Iranian government should understand that the world is watching."

Saperstein appeared with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is co-sponsoring a congressional resolution condemning Iran for its persecution of religious minorities, which the government says comprise 10 percent of the country's population.

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