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Iran 'plans to destroy Baha'i community'

  • Story Highlights
  • Baha'i official denies Iran claim that six of its leaders held for security reasons
  • The religious minority's leaders were arrested at their homes last week
  • Baha'i representative to U.N. says Iran's claim is "utterly baseless"
  • Bani Dugal says Muslim-run government is trying to destroy Baha'i community
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A top Baha'i official has criticized Iran's claim that the six imprisoned leaders of the religious minority were held for security reasons and not because of their faith.

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has been accused of trying to eliminate the Baha'i community.

Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, called Iran's assertion "utterly baseless."

"The allegations are not new, and the Iranian government knows well that they are untrue," Dugal said on Wednesday, quoted in a news release issued by the Baha'i movement.

"The documented plan of the Iranian government has always been to destroy the Baha'i community, and these latest arrests represent an intensification of this plan."

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham said the people were detained for "security issues" and not their faith, Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Elham said on Tuesday that the Baha'is were members of a group working together "against national interest."

"The group is an organized establishment linked to foreigners, the Zionists in particular," he said.

The arrests of the six last week and another Baha'i leader in March sparked sharp condemnation by the Baha'is, the United States, Canada, the European Union and humanitarian groups.

The Baha'is say the latest arrests are part of a pattern of religious persecution since 1979, when the monarchy of the Shah of Iran was toppled and an Islamic republic was created in the predominantly Shiite nation.

The Baha'is say they have been killed, jailed and "otherwise oppressed" only because of their religion.

"The best proof of this is the fact that, time and again, Baha'is have been offered their freedom if they recant their Baha'i beliefs and convert to Islam, an option few have taken," Dugal said.

Dugal said Iran's practice of connecting the group to Zionism, the underlying political philosophy of the Jewish state, was a "distortion" and an attempt to "stir animosity" among the Iranian public.

The Baha'i World Center, which the movement refers to as its "spiritual and administrative heart," is in the Acre/Haifa area in northern Israel -- a location that predates the founding of the state of Israel since it was formed during the Ottoman Empire's rule of Palestine.

The Baha'is explain that their founder, Baha'u'llah, "after a series of successive banishments from his native Persia, was exiled, with members of his family and a small band of his followers, to the Turkish penal colony of Acre in 1868."

Dugal said the Iranian actions were the "most recent iteration in a long history of attempts to foment hatred by casting the Baha'is as agents of foreign powers, whether of Russia, the United Kingdom, or the United States and now Israel all of which are completely baseless."

Dugal said the government's philosophies are based largely on the idea that there can be "no prophet following Mohammed" and that the faith "poses a theological challenge to this belief."

They say Baha'u'llah is regarded by Baha'is as "the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Mohammed."

The Baha'is-- regarded as the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran -- say they have 5 million members across the globe, and about 300,000 in Iran.

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