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US Condemns Religious Persecution in Iran

U.S. officials have condemned Iran's reported decision to try seven members of the Baha'i faith for espionage, saying the charges are "baseless."

A U.S. State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, issued a statement on Friday, saying the accusations against those detained are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha'is in Iran.

Earlier this week, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that seven members of the religious group will be prosecuted next week on charges of spying for Israel. They are also accused of "insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic."

Baha'i leaders have rejected the allegations and said the accused have never taken part in any political activity.

The State Department said authorities have detained the Baha'i members for more than nine months without access to legal counsel or making public any evidence against them.

U.S. officials said other religious minorities continue to be targeted solely on their beliefs.

The U.S.-based advocacy group Freedom House has called the charges "contrived" and a new blow to religious freedom, and urged that the Baha'is be released.

The Baha'i representative to the United Nations, Diana Ala'i, said it "demonstrates a concerted effort to destroy a religious community."

The Baha'i faith is a monotheistic religion that originated in Iran in the 19th century but has been banned since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iranian officials believe the faith is heresy and have in the past harassed, imprisoned and executed its followers.

The Baha'i headquarters have been located in what is now the Israeli city of Haifa since before the founding of the Israeli state.