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    US Calls on Iran Not to Execute Condemed Baha'is

    WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday called on Iran not to execute two condemned members of the Baha'i faith, which is considered heresy by Islamic fundamentalists.

    The State Department issued the call after Baha'is in France said on Tuesday that death sentences had been confirmed against two of their co- religionists imprisoned in Mashhad, northeastern Iran. The two were identified as Sirus Zabihi-Muqaddam and Hedayat Kashefi Najafabadi and were reported to have been arrested in October 1997 for having violated a ban on their holding meetings about family life, the French Baha'is said.

    State Department spokesman James Rubin said the two faced execution "for nothing else than the free exercise of their religion." "The United States urges the government of Iran to exercise restraint and not to carry out these death sentences," he told a news briefing.

    The Baha'i faith, an offshoot of Islam, originated in Iran 150 years ago. It says it has six million members, including 350,000 in Iran, where it is officially considered "a misleading and wayward sect."

    In July, the United States strongly condemned the Iranian government's execution of a Baha'i, Ruhu'llah Rawhani, charged with converting a Moslem to the Baha'i faith.

    Rubin said the United States was also aware of other recent acts against Baha'is in Iran, including the arrest of 32 faculty members of a university operated by the community. "We have urged publicly and will continue to urge publicly that the government of Iran protect members of the Baha'i faith," Rubin said.

    "We have also urged the government of Iran to ease restrictions on the practice of religion and to recognise and uphold the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief."

    Copyright 1998 by Reuters. All rights reserved.

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