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Tehran: Iran’s intelligence ministry said Monday it has arrested members of the Bahai minority suspected of spying for a centre located in Israel and of working illegally to spread their religion.

Intelligence agents “arrested a number of members of the central core of the Bahai spy party,” who were “directly linked to the Zionist centre known as Bait al-Adl”, the ministry said on its website, without specifying how many.

The Islamic republic regards Bahais as “heretics” and suspects many of espionage for Israel, where the community has its centre and spiritual home in the northern city of Haifa.

The ministry said the centre had instructed the suspects to revive the banned sect in Iran and to carry out “targeted information gathering”.

They had been instructed to “infiltrate educational environments at different levels, especially kindergartens across the country”, it said.

Iran allows religious freedom for several minorities but has banned the Bahai faith.

Bahais say they have been the targets of discrimination in Iran since the emergence of the faith in the second half of the 19th century, well before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Bahai community claims to have more than seven million followers worldwide, including some 300,000 in Iran.

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Iran to end human rights violations against minority religions including the Bahais, citing “harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention”, among other breaches.