CNN: Baha’is say jailed leaders in Iran face harsh new accusations

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By Joe Sterling

(CNN)Seven Baha’i leaders jailed in Iran face a possible new accusation that could lead to the death penalty, the religious group said Thursday, and a major human rights group has called for their release.

The seven — six arrested on May 14, 2008, and another arrested in March 2008 — have been charged with espionage for Israel, propaganda against Iran, and “insulting religious sanctities,” an Iranian deputy prosecutor said in February.

Now Baha’i officials say families of those imprisoned have been told that the seven may face the charge of “spreading of corruption on Earth,” a count that the group says “carries the threat of death” under Iran’s penal code.

Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs of the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, told CNN the seven have not had a trial or access to their lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. She said that while they have been told of their charges, they haven’t gone to court to hear the charges.

“They have been denied due process,” Bigelow told CNN. “Technically, they have been in jail for a year without having been formally charged. The charges have been made in the public domain, but not in the legal domain.”

Human Rights Watch, the world rights monitoring group, used the anniversary of the arrests of six of the Baha’is to call for their release or a prompt trial, with “fair and open proceedings.”

“These Baha’i leaders have been languishing in prison for a year now, with no access to their lawyers and no glimmer of a trial date,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Thursday. “These reported new charges only add to the fears for their lives under a government that systematically discriminates against Baha’is.”Other governments and groups, including the United States, have criticized the accusations and the jailing. In February, the U.S. State Department issued a condemnation of the accusations, saying they “are part of the ongoing persecution” of Iranian Baha’is.

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