Agence France Presse Intl. (AFM), Feb 15, 2000

Iran has implicitly turned down an appeal by US President Bill Clinton on behalf of three members of the Baha'i religious movement who face execution for acting against Iran's national security.

Mir-Mohammad Sadeghi, spokesman for the country's legal system, was quoted Tuesday in the press as saying: "These three persons are accused of acting against national security and that has nothing to do with their religious conviction."

He added, however, that "no definitive verdict has been delivered against these persons."

Acts against national security, whether armed or not, carry a prison sentence of up to ten years under Iranian law. Sadeghi said the three had initially been sentenced to death but this had been quashed.

Clinton on Friday had appealed to Iran not to execute the three members of the Baha'i community, and hit out at the Iranian government's persecution of religious minorities.

Death sentences have been imposed on Cyrus Zabihi-Moghaddam, Hedayat Kashefi-Najafabadi and Manushehr Khulusi, and have been confirmed on the first two, according to the White House.

"In all three cases it is clear that the individuals were arrested, charged and sentenced to death solely because of their religious beliefs," a US statement said.

"Executing people for their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles."

The statement added that Clinton "continues to hold the Iranian government responsible for the safety of the Baha's community of Iran and strongly urges that these executions not be carried out.

"The United States will continue to monitor closely Iranian treatment of the Baha'i community, and particularly the treatment of those who remain imprisoned or under sentence of death for their religious beliefs."

Sadeghi said that Iran's courts had been studying the cases for eight months and no final decision had been taken yet.

Bahaism was founded in the 19th century in Shiraz, southern Iran.

Its founder, Ali Muhammad Shirazi or the "Bab," as well as his son and successor BahaUllah (Glory of Allah), the prophet of the Bahai faith, advocated peace, universal equality and unity of all religions.

The Islamic republic considers Bahais as "apostates," and has deprived them of the right of assembly or other rights enjoyed by religious minorities such Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews.

Tehran also assimilates the Bahais with being "Israeli agents," notably because their center is located in Haifa, considered by Iran to belong to the occupied territory of Palestine.

Several Bahai missionaries have been executed in Iran, and their temples and institutions have been closed down.

Their main religious center in Tehran is currently being used as a study center for Islamic culture.

Before the Islamic revolution in 1979, some 500,000 Bahais lived in Iran out of six million worldwide. But since then, most have fled the country, and those who remain limit themselves to prayers at home.


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