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A Baha'i International Community representative says she hopes seven jailed Iranian Baha'i leaders will now get a proper appeal hearing after their sentences were reportedly halved, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

The New York-based community said on September 16 it had learned that the 20-year sentences against the five men and two women had been reduced.

"The only oral news which I have received from Iran is that the lawyers representing the seven Baha'i leaders were informed orally on September 15 that the 20-year jail terms have now been reduced to 10 years," Diane Ala'i, the community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told Radio Farda.

Ala'i said she is not overly optimistic as the judiciary system in Iran is inefficient and unpredictable.

"These seven detainees never had a file, they have never been informed officially -- even their 20-year jail terms were [communicated] also orally," she said. "In Iran judiciary proceedings generally are not clear and efficient."

But she expressed hope that an appeals trial will be held officially in the presence of lawyers.

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."

Ala'i strongly rejects these allegations, saying they were arrested because of their faith.

"I am sure if there is a fair trail these seven prisoners will be freed," she told RFE/RL.

Some 300,000 Baha'is live 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.
A Tajik girl cleans a rug as two women pass by her in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. (file photo)
A branch of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in the southern Tajik city of Kulob has complained that authorities are pressuring women who wear the hijab, the Islamic head scarf.

Local IRP leader Mahmadsharif Nabiev suggests that the harassment began after a visit to the region last month by President Emomali Rahmon.

Rahmon was reportedly heard to make disparaging comments about women in "Islamic clothing" in Kulob.

Since then, Nabiev says, several local officials have tried to ban women wearing Islamic dress from schools, universities, and even from working in the local bazaar.

Nabiev says women have asked his party to champion their right to dress as they choose.

He also says that in meetings with locals in southern Kulob on August 23, Rahmon urged parents to bring their children back from Islamic schools (madrasahs) abroad and advised women to wear Tajik national dress.

Nabiev says local officials and police misinterpreted Rahmon's comments and have increased pressure on women who wear head scarves and other clothing viewed as Islamic.

On September 1, as students celebrated the start of the school year, Rahmon met with students in Dushanbe and repeated concerns that many young Tajik girls choose to wear Islamic clothing. He added that some parents send their children to public schools while others are sending their kids to madrasahs. Rahmon noted that "we are at a crossroads [on this issue] and so we have to choose which path to take."

He also used tough language in describing the women who choose to wear head scarves, although an official transcript of his televised speech softened the language, likening such women to "black birds."

Kulov resident Fotima Rahimova tells RFE/RL that her daughters were told not to wear head scarves and not to cover their hair or they would face fines of up to 500 somoni ($114). Rahimova adds that officials attributed their crackdown to Rahmon's instructions.

Contacted by RFE/RL, Davlat Amirov, the Education Ministry's Kulob branch director, can neither confirm nor deny that fines were handed out to people who wore Islamic clothes at schools and universities. But he stresses that the Tajik government and the Education Ministry mandated a uniform that should be worn at schools and universities, and he says authorities must enforce that regulation.

While a ban on the hijab at schools and universities is nothing new in Tajikistan, a ban of the hijab in bazaars and other markets would be.

Safarkhuja Qudratov, a merchant in the Kulob bazaar, confirms that local officials recently met with her and other female workers at the bazaar and instructed them not to wear Islamic clothes.

But Tohir Odinaev, the deputy head of Kulob's main bazaar, says officials merely advised women to wear "national" clothes and did not say that anything is mandatory.

IRP members criticize the recent actions and say such polarizing approaches play into the hands of Islamic extremists.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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