The Trump administration says it is horrified by reports of Iranian government persecution of religious minorities in the Islamist-ruled nation.
Speaking Tuesday at the U.S. State Department, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the "horrific" reports related to what he called Iran's persecution of people who are not part of its Shiite majority and who do not practice religion as the government directs.
Brownback also said he had seen a "radical export" of such religious persecution out of Iran. He made the comments as he presented the State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report.
The annual report's section on Iran said its Islamist rulers continued to execute people on charges of "moharebeh" or "enmity against God," including four prisoners in Alborz province in December and four men in Kerman province in September.
The U.S. report said Tehran also continued to harass, interrogate and arrest Baha'is, Christians, Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities and to use anti-Semitic and anti-Baha'i rhetoric in official statements.
The report said members of religious minorities, especially Baha'is, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, with employers experiencing social pressures not to hire Baha'is or to dismiss them from their private-sector jobs.
Speaking Tuesday to VOA Persian's Late News program, U.S.-based Baha'i International Community spokesman Farhad Sabetan said Iran's international standing "always takes a hit" when there are newly published reports accusing Tehran of religious persecution.
"The Islamic Republic is sensitive about its worldwide reputation and tries to defend it when it can," said Sabetan, an economics professor at California State University-East Bay in Hayward.
On a visit to New York last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations forum and said, "According to Iranian law, following a set of beliefs is not an offense."
Asked about Iran's refusal to recognize the Baha'i religion, Zarif said: "Being a Baha'i is not a crime. We do not recognize somebody as a Baha'i as [having] a religion … that's a belief."
"But … being a Baha'i does not immunize somebody from being prosecuted for offenses that people may commit," he added.
Sabetan disputed Zarif's assertion. "Recently, Iranian officials have claimed that no one in Iran is targeted solely because they believe in a particular religion," he said. "We know that in the case of the Baha'is this is false. We have plenty of evidence that suggests otherwise."
In a statement issued last Friday, the Baha'i International Community said there had been a "new wave" of arrests and raids on Baha'i homes in several Iranian provinces, including Alborz, Isfahan and Razavi Khorasan. It said in many cases, the detentions of Iranian Baha'is had been accompanied by raids on personal homes and the seizure of religious books and writings.
Anthony Vance, U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs director, told VOA Persian that international community members were trying to verify the names of those arrested and the dates of their detentions.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service.