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Baha'i Leaders Enter Third Year Of Imprisonment In Iran

WATCH: A video in support of the seven Baha'i members, produced by the group United For Iran.

May 14 marked the second anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Tehran, where they have been held in Evin prison in small cells and solitary confinement. Baha’is around the world gathered in their local communities last weekend to pray for their safety and timely release.

The five male leaders -- Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm -- share a cell. The two women leaders -- Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet -- have shared a cell with other female prisoners, including journalist Roxana Saberi.

During a special devotional in Washington, D.C., Shastri Purushotma, a human rights representative from the U.S. Baha’i community, said the seven are in poor condition.

“They get to talk to their families about once a week. It’s usually a 10-minute phone call through glass,” said Purushotma. He said the Baha’i members sit in rooms lighted by one bright light, and only get sunlight and fresh air a few times a week.

“They sleep on the concrete floor with no bedding, and there’s this smell, which is rancid,” he said.

The seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned in Tehran
The State Department released a statement on May 14 condemning the Iranian government’s actions against the Baha’is during their trials this year.

“Although there have been three hearings of their case since January 2010, no date has yet been set for another hearing, and they continue to be denied access to their attorneys," the statement said. "The United States strongly condemns their continued incarceration as a violation of due process and calls on Iran to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In Roxana Saberi’s recent book, “Between Two Worlds: My Life And Captivity In Iran," she wrote about the conditions of the Baha’is in prison and said their strength and support helped her through her own nine-month stay in Evin prison. In a recent article in "The Washington Post," Saberi wrote that Bahai’s are often held in solitary confinement in Iran on trumped-up charges and without due process.

“It is common for Tehran's prisoners -- including journalists, bloggers, women's rights campaigners, student activists, and adherents of the minority Baha'i faith -- to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and 'propaganda against Islam' or the regime,” she wrote.

According to the official U.S. Baha’i website, the seven Baha’i leaders have been charged with spying for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic.

The organization United For Iran encouraged supporters to demonstrate their solidarity by taking photos of themselves inside an enclosed space the same size of the jail cells (2-by-3 meters for the women’s cells and 3-by-4 meters for the men’s).

Baha'is are the largest religious minority in Iran. Members of the faith say that hundreds of their followers have been jailed and executed since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. The government denies it has detained or executed people for their religious beliefs.

The Baha'i faith originated in Iran 150 years ago and has 5 million adherents worldwide, including an estimated 300,000 in Iran.

-- Ladan Nekoomaram

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