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The assault of press freedom has been accompanied by attacks on Iranian Baha'is, with 32 members of the outlawed sect arrested in a 3-day nation-wide sweep in 14 different cities that ended on October 1.
Gerald Filson, a spokesman for the Baha'i Community of Canada, said that most of those arrested were faculty members of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, also known as the Baha'i Open University. Baha'i property was seized in 14 cities across Iran, including Tehran, Tabriz, Hamedan, Zanjan and Khorramabad, on orders of the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS). Filson said the purpose of the arrests appeared to be to force closure of the Baha'i Open University, established to give Baha'is an opportunity to get an education, since the authorities have prevented Baha'is from completing high school or attending universities in Iran.
Gholamhossain Amini, a board member of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education who was released in Tehran shortly after his arrest, was told to convey the message that the Baha'i institution must close, according to Baha'i representatives.
The crackdown comes after an Islamic court in Mashad confirmed death sentences handed down earlier this year against two Baha'is for converting a Muslim woman to the Baha'i faith, Cyrus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hedayat Kashefi Najafabadi. A third Baha'i, Ataullah Hamid Nasirizadeh, was told orally that his death sentence had been commuted to ten years imprisonment. The three were arrested in October 1997 along with a fourth Baha'i, Ruhollah Rowhani. Rowhani was executed on July 21, despite the refusal of Iran's Supreme Court to confirm the death sentence handed down in Mashad against him. The woman they allegedly converted has claimed she was born a Baha'i.
These latest death sentences bring to seven the total number of Baha'is facing execution in Iran. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin called on the Iranian authorities not to carry out the executions. "We have urged publicly and will continue to urge publicly that the government of Iran protect members of the Baha'i faith," Rubin said on Oct. 1.
President Khatami has not commented on the situation of Baha'is in Iran, except for vague statements calling for religious tolerance.
The Resalati faction in Iran, which existed under the Shah and continues to demonstrate strong support from the Bazaar, has long sought to repress the Baha'i's. After widespread repression of the Baha'is during the first few years of the Revolution, including 200 executions, the regime refrained from high-profile acts of repression against the Baha'i community until last year, perhaps in response to extensive lobbying by the U.S. and European Baha'i community on behalf of human rights in Iran. If so, the upsurge in anti-Baha'i actions could mean that the regime no longer fears U.S. or European reprisals.
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