August 13th, 2010
11:30 AM ET
The U.S. is "deeply concerned," about religious persecution in Iran following reports that the country has sentenced seven Baha'i leaders to 20 years in prison, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.
In a statement, Clinton criticized what she called "the Iranian government's continued persecution of Baha'is and other religious minority communities in Iran."
"The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Baha'i community in Iran," Clinton said.
It was the second time this week that Clinton condemned Iran on human rights grounds.
On Tuesday, she said the U.S. is troubled by the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, and by reports that an 18-year-old male there has been charged with homosexuality and faces imminent execution, among other cases.
"The United States is deeply concerned that Iran continues to deny its citizens their civil rights and intimidate and detain those Iranians who seek to hold their government accountable and stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens," Clinton said in a statement Tuesday.
On Sunday, the Baha'i International Community said it has received reports of sentences for its leaders in Iran. "The United States strongly condemns this sentencing as a violation of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Clinton said Thursday.
"We will continue to speak out against injustice and call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens in accordance with its international obligations," she said.
The Baha'i leaders - two women and five men - have been held in Tehran's Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008. They are considered the nation's top-ranking Baha'is
The leaders were accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, according to the Baha'i International Community. The group denies all charges.
The leaders' trial comprised six brief court appearances, beginning in January, after they had been held without charges for up to 20 months, the Baha'i International Community said.
The group said the trial, during which the accused had roughly one hour's access to legal counsel, ended June 14. The verdict is believed to have been handed down Sunday, according to Diane Ala'i, a Baha'i U.N representative. She had no details on the nature of the convictions.
Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community constitutes the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority.
The Baha'i faith originated in 19th-century Persia, but the constitution of today's Islamic Republic does not recognize it as a religion and considers the followers as apostates.
A State Department report released earlier this year blasted the Iranian government for its treatment of Baha'is.
The report said Iran's government prevents Baha'is from gathering in homes to worship and bans Baha'is from public schools, universities, the social pension system and government leadership posts unless they conceal their religion.
"The government repeatedly pressured Baha'is to recant their religious beliefs in exchange for relief from mistreatment," the report said.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.