Spokesman James P. Rubin urged the Islamic Republic not to carry out the executions, to ease restrictions on religious practices "and to recognize and uphold the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief."
"We have urged that in the past, and we are urging it again today," Rubin said. The minority Baha'is, who draw their beliefs from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions, are considered heretics by the Muslim fundamentalist government in Iran. They have been prohibited from teaching in Iranian schools. The 32 people arrested in 14 cities had taught in their own schools.
According to a spokeswoman for the American Baha'is, Kit Cosby, four Baha'is were sentenced to death early this year in Mashhad on grounds of conducting family life classes and converting a Muslim to the Baha'i faith. One was executed in July, Two recently had their death sentences reconfirmed and the fourth's sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison.
For months, the Clinton administration has been trying to engage Tehran in a dialogue, based on the judgment by some senior U.S. officials that President Mohamad Khatami represents a moderate strain in Iranian policy-making.
The overture was brushed aside Monday by Foreign Minister Kemal Kharrazi. He called for a change in U.S. policies first.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in the United States said in July that more than 200 elected community leaders had been executed in Iran since 1979, solely on account of religion. Baha'i students have been barred from universities since the early 1980s.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.