By Alfredo Garcia
Religion News Service
(RNS) Seven top leaders of the Baha'i faith who have been incarcerated in Iran since 2008 have each received jail sentences of 20 years after six months of court hearings that ended on June 14, according to the Baha'i World News Service.
Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, said lawyers plan to appeal the verdict. "The allegations are pretty irrational and aren't very reasonable," she said.
Accusations against the seven include charges of espionage and propaganda activities against the Islamic state. "We really believe that they're completely innocent," Dugal said.
When asked about the prospect of a successful appeal, Dugal said, "we will be appealing to the government to ensure that we receive a fair hearing at the trial stage, but it will be very hard for us to predict one way or the other.
"We can only hope."
The seven leaders served Iran's minority Baha'i community, which hard-line clerics in Tehran consider an illegal sect. The seven leaders served as an ad hoc group to meet the needs of the estimated 350,000 Baha'is in Iran, said Dugal.
The Baha'i faith does not have an ordained clergy but rather elected leadership in each local community. Although unelected, "they were assisting the community" with administrative affairs, marriages, and other rites, she said.
Of the two women and five men, six have been in jail since May 2008 and one since March 2008. They have had limited contact with outsiders except occasional visits with family, Dugal said. "The conditions are not good from what we hear," she said.
The unknown fate of the prisoners--Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfam--has been difficult for the families, some of which include small children.
"After two and a half years in these conditions in prison, you can imagine it's taken its toll," Dugal said.