Gerald Filson, a spokesman for the Baha'i Community of Canada, says word of the crackdown filtered down today to members of the community in other parts of the Middle East. Filson told United Press International those arrested were faculty members of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, also known as the Baha'i Open University. They included Naim Khaze'i and five other members of the board of the institute. Filson says the arrests began Tuesday and continued through today with raids on Baha'i property in 14 cities across Iran, including Tehran, Tabriz, Hamedan, Zanjan and Khorramabad. He says the arrests were carried out under the direction of the Ministry of Information, which coordinates intelligence and security affairs in Iran. Officials seized Baha'i property, including books, papers and furniture.
Filson says the purpose of the arrests appears to be to force closure of the Baha'i Open University, established to give Baha'is an opportunity to get an education. 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.
The crackdown comes after an Islamic court in Iran sentenced two Baha'is to death this week for converting a Muslim woman to the Baha'i faith. The woman says she was raised as a Baha'i.
The latest death sentences, handed down in Mashad, some 500 miles (800 km) east of Tehran, bring to six the total number of Baha'is facing execution in Iran.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin confirmed the reports of death sentences and called on Iranian authorities not to carry out the executions. On July 21, Iranian religious authorities executed Baha'i prisoner Ruhollah Rowhani after an Islamic court found him guilty of converting the same woman to the Baha'i faith. The Supreme Court of Iran refused to endorse the sentence, but Rowhani was hanged anyway.
There are some 300,000 Baha'is in Iran, making them the largest religious minority in the Islamic state, which does not officially recognize them as a minority group.
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved.