It's been more than two years since Iranian authorities arrested seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i community. The two women and five men have spent the ensuing months in Evin prison, reportedly under harsh conditions. In court hearings that lacked basic standards of justice, the seven were charged with a series of national security crimes, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.
Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i community to the United Nations, said, "In the three trial sessions that have so far taken place, no evidence has been provided whatsoever of wrongdoing – - making it all the more obvious that the prisoners are being held only because of their religious belief."
Baha'is in Iran routinely suffer because of their religion. They are denied a university education unless they recant their faith; they may not establish places of worship or schools; they are denied the right to inherit property; they are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, and violent attacks on their homes or property take place with impunity. Since 1979, the Iranian government has reportedly executed more than 200 Baha'is.
The State Department Human Rights report notes that other minority religious groups are targeted by Iranian authorities as well. Sufi Muslims have faced increased repression in recent years: Gonabadi Dervishes have been arrested; several of their houses of worship destroyed. Sunni and Christian Iranians encounter societal and religious discrimination and harassment at the local, provincial and national levels; Iranian Jews face a hostile and threatening environment created in part by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated speeches decrying the existence of Israel, and by hate-filled anti-Semitic programs broadcast on state-run television.
Marking the second anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Baha'i leaders by the Iranian government, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a written statement, "The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing persecution of Baha'is and other religious minority communities in Iran."
He strongly condemned the continued incarceration of the seven Baha'is as "a violation of due process" and called on Iran to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "Once again, said Mr. Crowley, "we join the international community in urging Iran to uphold its obligations to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens."