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Baha'i "Spying" Case Strikes New Blow Against Religious Freedom in Iran


Washington - February 12, 2009 - Freedom House strongly condemns the Iranian government's decision to try seven members of the Baha'i faith next week on contrived charges including "spying for Israel." The five men and two women should be released immediately, along with dozens of other Baha'is who are in prison for exercising their human right to religious freedom.

In addition to the espionage charge, the seven are accused of "insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic," although no evidence has been presented. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi is representing the seven Baha'i detainees in court, but has yet to gain access to their case files.

Iran has executed hundreds of Baha'is - the country's largest non-Muslim minority - since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The 300,000 adherents to the Baha'i faith who live in Iran regularly face unwarranted arrests, false imprisonment and torture. The Baha'i religion, which was founded in nineteenth century Persia, is banned in Iran.

"It is deeply ironic that the Iranian regime is seeking greater international legitimacy, while it escalates a brutal campaign against anyone perceived to be a threat in the lead up to the presidential election in June," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "The case of the seven Baha'is is part of a larger crackdown on reform-minded political activists, human rights organizations and bloggers that Freedom House is monitoring closely."

Among the most high-profile cases is that of Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who was arrested in Iran late last year on similar charges of "espionage for Israel." In January, a lawyer for world-renowned AIDS physicians Arash and Kamiar Alei said the brothers were sentenced to several years in prison on charges of participating in a "soft coup funded by the CIA."

Iran is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties. The country, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, received a downward trend arrow this year because of the government's decision to disqualify dozens of candidates for elected office and close numerous media outlets. Iran also received a ranking of Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom of the Press.

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Iran since 1972.

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