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Posted Friday, December 23 at 2:59 PM

Baha'i community here joining worldwide protest

by Ken Stanford

GAINESVILLE - The Baha'i community in Gainesville is joining a worldwide Baha'i protest of the death of a Baha'i who allegedly was wrongfully imprisoned in Iran.

Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, 59, had spent 10 years in an Iranian jail for his religious beliefs when he died in his prison cell of unknown causes on December 15, according to a the Baha'i International Community.

"The worldwide Baha'i community mourns deeply the passing of Mr. Mahrami, who was unjustly held for a decade on trumped-up charges that manifestly violated his right to freedom of religion and belief," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

Mahrami's death comes amid ominous signs that a new wave of persecution of Baha'is has begun, according to the statement which was furnished by the Baha'i in Gainesville.

This year nearly 60 Baha'is have been arrested, detained or imprisoned, a figure up sharply from recent years, officials said. As of October, Mr. Mahrami was one of nine Baha'is being held in Iranian prisons.

Arrested in 1995 on charges of apostasy, Mahrami was initially sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court, a conviction that was subsequently upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court. His 1996 sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment in 1999 after widespread media attention and international outcry from the European Union and the governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Although Iranian officials have asserted that Mahrami, a lifelong Baha'i, was guilty of spying for Israel, court records clearly indicate that he was tried and sentenced solely on being charged as an "apostate," according to Dugal. "There should be no doubt that the Iranian authorities bear manifest responsibility for the death of this innocent man, whose only crime was his belief in the Baha'i Faith."

Her group says since 1978, more than 200 Iranian Baha'i have been killed, hundreds more have been imprisoned, and thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions and education as part of systemic religious persecution by the Iranian government.

The Baha'i Faith is an independent, monotheistic religion. There are more than 5 million Baha'is worldwide. The Baha'i Faith was first mentioned in the United States in 1893 at the World's Parliament of Religions held during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Baha'i community in the United States numbers about 150,000, of whom more than 10,000 are Iranian Baha'i refugees who fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baha'is reside in about 7,000 localities throughout the United States, including more than 100 Indian reservations.

©Copyright 2005, Access North Georgia - Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved.

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