Iranian media report Baha'i missionary arrests

Tehran, Iran - Iranian authorities have reportedly arrested several women for doing missionary work for the Baha'is, the religious group whose persecution by the Islamic republic has been condemned by human rights activists and governments around the globe.

Tabnak, a semi-official Iranian news service, reported the development but did not specify how many women were arrested or when they were seized.

The arrests took place in Kish Island, Iranian territory in the Persian Gulf, the agency said. Tabnak said some of those arrested came from Tehran and others from abroad.

"For a long time now, those who wanted to recruit young Iranian men to join the Baha'is used attractive women as bait," the site said. "Israel has given sanctuary to the leaders of this perverted group [Baha'is] for many years, and the United States and Britain have provided them with billions of dollars to engage in propaganda."

This news comes after the Baha'i movement reported that six members of the group were arrested in Tehran this week, including one who works with lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel peace laureate. Seven leaders of the group seized in 2008 remain in jail.

In a resolution Thursday, the European Parliament condemned Iran's harassment of Ebadi, who had been threatened when she undertook the defense of the seven people arrested. The parliament also criticized the dissemination of "false information" by Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, which said Ebadi's daughter converted to the Baha'i faith.

The parliament says "allegation can have serious consequences since Baha'i believers are harshly persecuted in Iran."

The Baha'is -- who believe they are targeted in the predominantly Shiite nation because of their faith -- have faced oppression, including arrests, over the years.

They say the persecution is part of a pattern of religious persecution that began in 1979. That's when the monarchy of the Shah of Iran was toppled and an Islamic republic was created.

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

The Baha'is say they regard their founder, Baha'u'llah, 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 around the globe and about 300,000 in Iran.

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. That location predates the founding of the state of Israel; it was formed during the Ottoman Empire's rule of Palestine.