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Iran Court Overturns Death Sentences

TEHRAN, Iran, February 17, 2000 (AP) - Iran's Supreme Court has rejected death sentences handed down to three followers of the minority Bahai faith, a Tehran newspaper reported Thursday.

New sentences have not yet been issued for the three Bahais, who were convicted of unspecified anti-security acts against the state, the daily Sobh-e-Emrouz reported. The case has been under investigation in Iran's northeastern Khorasan province for eight months.

The newspaper, which quoted Judiciary spokesman Hossein Sadeqi as the source of its information, gave no further details. The report was the first word of the three Bahais in the Iranian press.

In a statement last week in Washington, President Clinton said he was deeply troubled that death sentences had been reaffirmed against two Bahais, whom he identified as Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hadayet Kashefi-Najafabadi, and one had been imposed on Manucher Khulusi.

``Executing people for their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles,'' Clinton had said.

Bahais are considered heretics in Iran and are not recognized in the Iranian constitution as a religious minority. The faith is based on the belief that the will of one God is progressively revealed through the prophets of the great religions.

Clinton's statement said the Iranian government would be held responsible for the safety of the Bahai community of Iran and strongly urged the executions not be carried out.

Reports out of Washington said the three were arrested in 1997 for violating a government ban on religious gatherings and have been in prison for two years.

A State Department report last year accused Iran of implementing policies to eradicate the Bahai faith through prolonged imprisonment of Bahais, confiscation and desecration of holy places and denial of the right to assemble.

Many Bahais were executed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.