WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- The White House is urging the Iranian government not to execute two members of the Baha'i religious minority for allegedly converting a Muslim woman to the Baha'i faith.
In a statement today, the White House also condemned the arrest of 32 Baha'is and confiscation of their property in a nationwide crackdown. The statement says: "We strongly urge President Khatami to ensure that these executions are not carried out. Executing people for the practice of their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles." It adds, "We deplore this attack on followers of the Baha'i faith and urge President Khatami to ensure the release of all Baha'is who have been arrested for the peaceful observance and expression of their faith. "
The death sentences against on Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hedayet Kashefi- Najafabadi, 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.
On July 21, Iranian religious authorities executed Baha'i prisoner Ruhollah Rowhani after an Islamic court found him guilty of converting a woman to the Baha'i faith. The Supreme Court of Iran refused to endorse the sentence, but Rowhani was hanged anyway.
On Thursday, a representative of the Baha'i community in Canada told UPI the latest arrests began Tuesday and were accompanied by raids on Baha'i property in 14 cities, including Tehran, Tabriz, Hamedan, Zanjan and Khorramabad. Gerald Filson said officials from the Ministry of Information seized books, papers and furniture and told a board member of the Open University that the institution must close.
He said the university was established because Baha'is are not allowed to complete high school or attend Iranian universities. There are some 300,000 Baha'is in Iran, which does not officially recognize them as a minority group.
In Ottawa today, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy also condemned the arrests and said he raised the issue with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, whom he met in New York on Thursday. In a statement, Axworthy said the arrests "are an affront to the human rights of Iranian Baha'is."
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