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WIRE:02/11/2000 18:46:00 ET

White House blasts Iran for deaths sentences to Baha'is

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration criticized Iran on Friday for sentencing to death three Baha'i men who the White House said were condemned because of their religious faith.

President Clinton was deeply troubled by the sentences given Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam, Hedayet Kashefi-Najafabadi and Manuchehr Khulusi, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.

"In all three cases, it is clear that the individuals were arrested, charged and sentenced to death solely because of their religious beliefs," Lockhart said. "Executing people for the practice of their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles."

The Baha'is draw their religious principles from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths. They are considered heretics by many Muslims, including Iran's fundamentalist Islamic government.

Iran is among seven countries identified by the State Department last year as engaging in "particularly severe" violations of religious freedoms. It has implemented policies to eradicate the faith through imprisoning Baha'i adherents, confiscating and desecrating their holy places and denying them the right to assemble.

Lockhart said the United States will monitor Iran's treatment of its Baha'i minority for signs of persecution.

"President Clinton continues to hold the Iranian government responsible for the safety of the Baha'i community of Iran and strongly urges that these executions not be carried out," Lockhart said. "We condemn Iranian government persecution of all minority faiths."

©Copyright 2000, ABC News
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