08/10/2010, 00.00
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Tehran, seven Bahai members sentenced to 20 years in prison

The seven are cultural figures and scientists. They have been in Evin prison since 2008. They are accused of "spying for Israel, insult to religious things, propaganda against the Islamic republic." At least 47 members are in prison because of their faith.

Tehran (AsiaNews) - Seven members of the Bahai, a religious minority in Iran, were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The groups official website confirmed the news (news.bahai.org). According to the community’s spokesman, the Iranian authorities have decided the sentence August 8 last but only orally communicating it to defence lawyers. They are still waiting for written confirmation from the courts.

The seven members were arrested in March and May 2008 and are being held in Evin prison. Their trial has had its ups and downs, with hearings set and then cancelled throughout 2009. In 2010 there were a few brief sessions from January to June, the defendants had only an hour to confer with their lawyers.

It was never drafted a written sentence, but the semi-official agency ISNA, reported that the seven were tried for "spying for Israel, insulting religious things, propaganda against the Islamic republic." They were also accused of "spreading corruption on earth".

The seven are: Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm (see photo).

The seven - cultural figures and scientists - are among national leaders of the minority in Iran.

The Bahai community was founded around 1860 by the Persian nobleman Baha'u'llah, a new self-appointed prophet and continuer of the work of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. In direct contrast then with Islam’s proclamation that sees Mohammed as the last prophet. Permitted at the time of the Shah, since the Islamic Revolution of '79 it has been branded as heretical and banned. Since '79 more than 200 followers have been executed or murdered, hundreds jailed, tens of thousands have been deprived of employment, pensions, and commercial activities. All Bahai institutions are prohibited and their holy places, cemeteries and properties have been confiscated by the government or destroyed Many Bahai have been imprisoned for simply having taught their children their religion. Their young people can not go to university, if they do not declare themleves "Islamic".

The group has about 7 million followers worldwide and also has a temple in Haifa, northern Israel. Members have often explained that their presence in Israel has no political reasons, but religious: their founder, after being exiled from Baghdad and Constantinople, went to live in Haifa in 1868, long before the State of Israel was formed.

According to the organization, at least 47 members of the Bahai community in Iran are in prison for their faith.
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