Via Times Colonist

Iran pledged Wednesday to try seven leaders of the banned Baha’i faith on charges of spying for Israel, insulting Islam and spreading propaganda against the state, the ISNA news agency reported.

The Canadian-based son of one of the group — which was arrested last year — Wednesday night dismissed the accusations as “just one big lie.”

“I am very worried about this development. Anything can happen. They face heavy accusations,” Naeim Tavakkoli, 31, of Ottawa, said of his father, Behrouz, 57, and the other six.

Canada denounced Iran’s jailing of the Baha’is at the time of their arrests.

“As stated by our government then, these individuals were detained solely on the basis of their faith,” said Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. “These charges would be unacceptable and the reports, if they turn out to be true, are very concerning.”

Iranian authorities are holding the seven in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, scene of the 2003 killing of Montreal Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. The Canadian Baha’I News Service identified them as as Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet.

“The alleged charges against the seven accused belonging to the illegal Baha’i administration was considered in the public Prosecutor’s Office and according to the warrant, the file will be remitted to the Islamic Court for deliberation next week,” said Hassan Haddad, Tehran’s deputy prosecutor, according to ISNA.

He mentioned some of the charges laid; espionage for Israel; insults to the Holy beliefs of Islam; and teaching against the regime, ISNA added.

Tavakkoli said the seven — among them two women — have had no access to lawyers since their arrests. The first of the group was arrested in March. Iranian intelligence officers arrested the rest, including Tavakkoli’s father, in dawn raids at their homes in May.

“They have assigned my mother a few visits, but only with an agent present,” said Tavakkoli, a structural engineer who arrived in Canada with his wife Neda, 29, in late 2005.

“My father was not able to speak freely, so we have no idea if he has faced abuse, but she could see that he appeared pale and weak.”

Founded in then-Persia in the 19th century, the Baha’i faith today has about 300,000 followers in Iran, but they have faced increasing persecution as “apostates” since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The faith has no formal links with Israel, but its international headquarters is there.

“It is based inside modern-day Israel’s borders purely because the Persian and Ottoman empires banished the faith’s founder,” said Gerald Filson, spokesman for the 30,000-strong Baha’i community in Canada.

“The accusation of spying is contrived, and has been used as a pretext to prosecute Baha’is for more than three quarters of a century.”

The seven were members of a national co-ordinating group that helped to provide the “minimum needs of Baha’is in Iran,” international representatives have said.