EU concerned by arrests of Baha'is in Iran

Brussels, Belgium - The European Union called on Iran on Wednesday to release six members of the Baha'i faith imprisoned on security-related charges, urging Tehran to allow full freedom of religion.

Baha'is believe in the spiritual unity of all mankind and regard their faith's 19th-century founder as the latest in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad. Iran's Shi'ite religious establishment considers the religion a heretical offshoot of Islam.

Iranian authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the six had been arrested, accusing them of acting against Iran's national security and having links with foreigners. They denied that the arrests were linked to their faith. Iran's government says all Iranians, regardless of creed, enjoy the same rights.

"The EU calls on the Islamic Republic of Iran to uphold fully the right to adopt and practice a religion of choice, to end the persecution of the Baha'i community, and to release the detained individuals," it said in a statement.

"The EU reiterates its serious concern about the continuing systematic discrimination and harassment of the Iranian Baha'is on the grounds of their religion," it added.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has had months of fruitless contacts with Iranian officials to find scope for negotiations on international demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment. The West suspects Tehran of seeking the atom bomb, something Iran denies.

The Baha'i faith originated in Iran 150 years ago and Baha'is say the faith has 5 million adherents worldwide, including 300,000 or more in Iran.