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Iran rejects U.S. charges of religious persecution

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran Thursday rejected U.S. allegations that it violated religious freedom, and charged that America itself was blighted by injustice and inequality.

"Unfortunately such baseless ... statements, which are in line with Washington's self-serving policy of double-standards, are made at a time when American society is itself suffering from injustice and inequality," Iran's news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying.

"Followers of divine religions practice their religion in complete freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.

The U.S. State Department Wednesday designated Iran and four other countries as violators of religious freedom. Iran was faulted for persecution of members of the Baha'i faith.

Under Iran's Islamic system, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians receive special minority rights, including direct representation in parliament.

But the state does not recognize the Baha'i faith, an offshoot of Islam which originated in Iran some 150 years ago, as a bona fide religion. The minority are regarded as heretics by Iran's Islamic leaders.

©Copyright 1999, ABC News

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