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Sentences for Iran's Baha'i leaders reportedly reduced

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Seven Baha'i leaders were accused of spying and sentenced to 20 years
  • The sentences have drawn international criticism
  • The Baha'i community says Iran is trying to stifle the religion

(CNN) -- Prison sentences for seven Baha'i leaders in Iran have reportedly been reduced from 20 to 10 years, the Baha'i International Community learned Thursday.

Lawyers representing the seven were informed Wednesday of the reduction in jail terms, it said.

The Baha'i leaders -- two women and five men -- were arrested in 2008 and accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, according to the Baha'i International Community.

The group denies all charges and says they were trumped up in an effort to stifle the Baha'i religion, the largest minority faith in Iran. In the absence of official recognition of their faith, the seven national leaders helped meet spiritual needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community.

The sentences have drawn condemnation from the United States and human rights groups.

Iranian authorities view Baha'i adherents as "heretics" who may face repression on the grounds of apostasy.

Baha'is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha'is are barred from the military and denied government jobs, according to a report by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Iran, however, denies mistreatment of Baha'is and says followers of the faith are free to live in Iran. But it says activities against the Islamic state are illegal and the government thus views the seven Baha'is as criminals.

The Baha'i leaders are jailed at Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.

CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.