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Iranian Baha'i Leaders Given Long Sentences

The seven Baha'i leaders have been imprisoned since the spring of 2008.
A Baha'i international community official says the 20-year prison sentences given to seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i community are "completely unjust" and based on fabricated charges, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaluddin Khanjani, Afif Naeemi, Saeed Rezai, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakoli, and Vahid Tizfahm were sentenced on August 8 after being found guilty of "espionage," "acting against national security," and being "enemies of God."

They had been on trial since January, and detained in Evin Prison since 2008.

Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i international community representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told Radio Farda that the Baha'i community is demanding the immediate release of all seven Baha'is.

She added that they "were kept in solitary confinement for interminable periods of time without knowing the charges against them, while their temporary arrest was extended every two months."

Ala'i said that during the long trial period, the defendants were only able to meet with their lawyers once, and for just one hour.

The Baha'i World News Service said that before the trial began, the seven were held without formal charges or access to lawyers.

Ala'i believes they were arrested simply for practicing the Baha'i religion and acting as informal community leaders.

According to European Baha'i community statistics, there are about 300,000 Baha'is in Iran, making it one of the largest Baha'i communities in the world. Iran is where the religion was founded in the 19th century.

But the Iranian government does not officially recognize the religion and severe limitations are imposed on its followers, including a ban from attending university.

The government has also sanctioned the destruction of Baha'i holy sites, including the former residence of one of the religion's prophets in Shiraz.