U.S. condemns Iran crackdown on Bahai followers
06:38 p.m Apr 20, 1999 Eastern
WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - The United States, in a departure from a recent warming of relations, on Tuesday expressed concern over Iran's sentencing of four members of the Bahai faith and condemned persecution of Bahai followers.
``We are deeply concerned about the recent sentencing to prison of four Iranian citizens for the exercise of their Bahai faith,'' the White House said in a statement.
The statement was referring to the sentencing of four instructors from the Bahai Institute of Higher Education.
The four, arrested as part of a crackdown last year, were convicted for teaching Bahai religious classes and sentenced to terms ranging from three to 10 years, the White House said.
"Imprisoning people for the practice of their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles," it said.
"We condemn the Iranian government's persecution of the followers of the Bahai faith and we urge President (Mohammad)Khatami to ensure the immediate release of all Bahais who have been imprisoned for the observance and expression of their religion."
The criticism follows a long period of careful gestures toward improved relations between the United States and Iran, which have been met with suspicion among Khatami's hardline Islamic rivals.
Relations between the United States and Iran soured after the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the pro-American shah.