Six members of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) have received severe prison terms from the Islamic Republic judiciary.

The Human Rights Reporters Committee reports that the sentences given to the Baha’i online university administrators have been approved by the appellate court.

Kamran Mortezai is sentenced to five years in jail, and Riaz Sobhani, Ramin Zibai, Fardah Sedghi, Mahmoud Badavam and Noshin Khadem are each sentenced to four years in prison.

The six were arrested eight months ago and charged with “membership in illegal groups with the intention of committing crimes against national security.”

The report adds that Vahid Mahmoodi, who was arrested along with this group, was given a suspended sentence of five years in jail and released.

Last June, Iranian authorities raided the homes of the professors and administrators of the BIHE in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Mazandaran. Since then, 20 people have been arrested for their connection with the BIHE, and another 50 professors and students have been summoned for questioning.

The Ministry of Science has announced that “the online university BIHE does not have the necessary permits for operation, and all its activities are illegal.”

The on-line university was launched by the Baha’i community to serve the needs of young Iranian Baha’is, who face serious discrimination in accessing secondary education.

The Islamic Republic does not recognize Baha’ism as a legitimate religion, and although Iran is the birthplace of the Baha’i faith, its practice is banned in Iran.