More than 9 months have passed since 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran were arrested and sent to prison with no access to legal counsel. Now the Iranian government has announced the 7 have been charged with espionage.
The move is the latest in decades of repressive measures against the Baha'is, the largest non-Islamic religious minority group in Iran. Those measures include barring Baha'is from attending public universities or working in public agencies, destroying or closing Baha'i places of worship, bulldozing Baha'i cemeteries, legally confiscating Baha'i property, and killing Baha'is with impunity.
Human Rights groups and others are outraged at the latest move by the Iranian government. Amnesty International said it considers the 2 women and 5 men accused of espionage by the regime to be prisoners of conscience held because of their beliefs or peaceful activities. Amnesty International expressed concern that the charges brought against the 7 could result in their execution.
The U.S.-based non-governmental organization Freedom House condemned the Iranian government for bringing the 7 Baha'is to trial on what it called "contrived" charges, and it demanded their immediate release. Earlier this month, a group of Iranian intellectuals living outside Iran signed a letter declaring they will be silent no longer in the face of the persecution of the Baha'is in their homeland.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department Acting spokesman Robert Wood condemned the Iranian government's decision to level what he called "baseless charges of espionage" against the 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran. "The accusations against them," said Mr. Wood, "are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha'i in Iran. Thirty other Baha'i," noted Mr. Wood, "remain imprisoned in Iran solely on the basis of their religious belief."
Mr. Wood also expressed concern about other religious minorities who continue to be targeted by the government simply for what they believe. He cited the case of 3 Christians arrested in Tehran last month, as well as several members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, followers of Sufism, who were arrested on Kish Island in January.
Mr. Wood said the U.S. joins the international community in urging the Iranian authorities "to release all religious minorities who are currently in detention for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms."