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IRAN: Bahais rounded up

May 15, 2008 |  2:37 pm

Bahais

Human rights advocates have decried the apparent arrests this week of six leaders of Iran's embattled Bahai community.

Rights groups say Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm were all unofficial leaders of Iran's outlawed but often tolerated Bahai religious minority who lived in Tehran.

They were arrested Wednesday, most likely on security charges, by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and locked up Tehran's infamous Evin Prison, according to rights activists.

No one's sure why. Bahais are mostly apolitical. But Iran's clerical leadership considers them heretical. And they are informally barred from obtaining public-sector employment or university scholarships.

Some believe the move is a red herring, meant to create distractions at a time of domestic turmoil over spiraling price inflation.

"It’s to create a crisis in the foreign policy," said Hadi Ghaemi, of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a group based in Vienna. The government "is in a weak position and could benefit from an international outcry to distract from its failures in domestic policy."

According to a Bahai news Web site, the six were taken from their homes Wednesday morning by intelligence officials who spent hours searching their residences.

The seventh member of the Bahai leadership group was arrested in early March in Mashhad.

"The early morning raids on the homes of these prominent Bahais were well coordinated, and it is clear they represent a high-level effort to strike again at the Bahais and to intimidate the Iranian Bahai community at large," Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, said in a news release.

Up to 300,000 Bahais live in Iran, where the religion was founded in the 19th century.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: All seven people who lead Iran's Bahai community have been arrested, six of them in early-morning raids on Wednesday at their homes in Tehran. They are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. Credit: Bahai World News Service

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