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Iran Cracks Down On Religious Minorities

Iranian judges will soon sentence seven members of a religious minority arrested a year ago.

The members of the Baha'i faith, in jail since the spring of 2008, have been accused of spying for Israel.

The government now appears to be preparing a public case against the prisoners, perhaps in response to accusations from human rights groups that the arrests were religious persecution.

Iran's Attorney General has said that, although Iran's Constitution says no person can be persecuted simply for holding a religious belief, individuals don't have the right to "publicize their beliefs or try to manipulate the public."

Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi also claimed there is evidence that the Baha'is (a breakaway Islamic sect) have close ties with Iran's foreign enemies.

Last summer the judiciary said the two women and five men who were arrested confessed to having contacts with other countries, including Israel, and to receiving instructions from those countries.

The spokesperson for Iran's Baha'i community has repeatedly said the seven were simply responsible for managing the affairs of the Baha'i community in Iran, including marriage and education.

Iran's religious leaders have long been in conflict with the Baha'i community.

Twenty-five years ago, the Head of Iran's Judiciary and the Attorney General decreed all their activities illegal.

The government's hard line against religious minorities was recently extended to the Gonabadi Dervishes (also called Sufis), Muslims who incorporate elements of mysticism into their religion. Their house of worship in Isfahan was demolished by the authorities, who claimed it was built on usurped land.

Since the beginning of the Islamic revolution, almost 30 years ago, many factions within the regime have tried to put a stop to the activities of Dervishes in Iran, saying they represent a threat to Islam. In the last few years there have been several confrontations between authorities and members of this group.

On Saturday, a group of Dervishes tried to stage a protest in front of the parliament, but police special forces moved them on.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks about compassion and freedom, but in reality the persecution of individuals and communities has increased during recent years.

In a television interview earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said he was concerned about a more aggressive stance adopted recently by Iran's morality police, and that he has asked the Interior Ministry to investigate.

Many observers believe this is just political posturing in advance of the country's 10th presidential elections, scheduled for June 2009.

As talk of possible direct negotiations between Tehran and the new White House increases, a prominent Iranian lawmaker recently sought to head-off humanitarian criticism of his country and shift the negative attention to foreign entities — common practice among Iranian politicians facing any criticism.

Kazem Jalali, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told Rasa News (an Iranian agency) "We are sure that President Obama's new administration will resort to the tool of human rights to confront the (Islamic) revolution of Iran, because they know there is a consensus over the nuclear issue inside Iran."

"We believe that the new U.S. administration will look to the repetitive slogans of so-called human rights violations against some cults and certain sects," Jalali added, in a very loosely veiled reference to the regime's crackdown on groups like the Baha'is and the Dervishes.

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