Iran's judiciary said on Tuesday it has sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community, whose faith is banned in the Islamic republic, for anti-regime propaganda.
"Three Bahais have been sentenced to four years in prison for propaganda against the regime," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters, adding that 51 received suspended one-year jail terms.
He said the suspension of the sentence for the 51 Bahais was conditional on their attendance of courses held by state Islamic Propaganda Organisation.
The Bahais, who were arrested early last year, were proselytizing in the southern city of Shiraz under the cover of helping the poor, said another judicial official who asked not to be named. In the past few months, conservative newspapers in Iran have criticised what they said was a rise in the activities of Bahais throughout the country, specially in Shiraz.
The Islamic republic does not recognise the faith of Bahaism -- which was originally developed in 1863 in Iran -- and it is officially prohibited. Its followers are regarded as infidels and have been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic revolution and also under the deposed shah.
Iran's constitution recognises only Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as minority religions.
Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, the last prophet sent by God to the earth, while Muslims believe the last messenger of God is the Prophet Mohammed.
Bahaullah was banished and lived 40 years in exile.