AFP: Iran confirmed on Tuesday it has arrested members of the Bahai religious community, whose faith is banned in the Islamic republic, for acting against the national interest.
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran confirmed on Tuesday it has arrested members of the Bahai religious community, whose faith is banned in the Islamic republic, for acting against the national interest.
"This is a group that has acted against the country's interests and has links with foreigners, especially the Zionists (Israel)," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.
Last week, Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier voiced concern over the arrest of six Iranian Bahai followers and called for their release. But there was no immediate official confirmation of the report.
"Our intelligence service has acted based on legal criteria and it is pursuing the issue as a duty and as part of every country's rules," Elham said.
"This (arrest) does not have to do with ideological issues or if you want to call it beliefs, which we basically do not approve of."
The Canadian minister had accused Iran of detaining the individuals "solely on the basis of their faith".
Iran said in January it had sentenced 54 Bahais for anti-regime propaganda, three of them to four years in jail while the rest received suspended one-year jail terms.
Judicial officials said the Bahais, who were initially arrested early last year, were proselytizing in the southern city of Shiraz under the cover of helping the poor.
The Bahai faith was originally developed in Iran in 1863 but is not recognised by the government. Its followers are regarded as infidels and have been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic revolution and also under the deposed shah.
Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, the last prophet sent to Earth by God, while Muslims believe the last messenger of God is the Prophet Mohammed.
Bahaullah was banished and lived 40 years in exile. He died in 1892 and was buried in the Holy Land, close to what is now the northern Israeli port of Haifa.