The head of the Baha'i International Community, based in Haifa, said Tuesday that last week's arrest of seven Baha'i leaders was the latest in an ongoing wave of persecution in Iran that has been escalating since the beginning of 2008. "The latest incident is a ripple on the top of a wave," said Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the Baha'i International Community. "It is just the tip of the iceberg." Lincoln said that over the past few months, there have been numerous incidents of arson, threats, kidnappings and beatings directed at the Baha'i community of 300,000 in Iran. "People's houses and shops are being burned or bulldozed down, they are being kidnapped and beaten. Baha'i cemeteries are being plowed up, and members of the Baha'i community who have worked for the state of Iran for decades and are now retired are being asked to pay back the pensions they have received," he said. "Now there was this latest incident, the imprisonment of seven of our leaders, who were our primary source for information on what is happening there," he went on. "Apparently, Iranian officials did not want anybody to know about the persecution." An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman quoted by foreign media said the arrests were a judicial matter, but he did not give any further details. The US State Department made the following announcement after the arrest: "We strongly condemn the May 14 arrest of six leaders of the Iranian Baha'i community - Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm - by Iranian authorities, and the continued imprisonment of a seventh leader, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet. "This is a clear violation of the Iranian regime's international commitments and obligations to respect international religious freedom norms. We urge the authorities to release all Baha'is currently in detention and cease their ongoing harassment of the Iranian Baha'i community." Baha'is are persecuted by the Shi'ite regime in Iran because of their belief that Mirza Husayn Ali (1817-1892), known as Baha'u'llah ("glory of God" in Arabic) was the last prophet, replacing Muhammad. Baha'u'llah was severely persecuted in his lifetime by the Shi'ites of Iran and was banished to Israel, where he died. The Baha'i center in Haifa is located near his gravesite. According to Baha'i belief, members are not allowed to hide their faith, so they are easily identified and singled out for persecution by Iran. Lincoln said a central tenet of Baha'i faith was to be loyal to the state in which one was a citizen. "Although the Baha'i faith is opposed to the bearing of arms, civic duty takes precedence over our dislike of all forms of violence. We believe in order and obedience. And that is the way our members behave in Iran as well," he said. Lincoln said the Baha'i community in Iran had suffered varying levels of persecution since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Nevertheless, there has been no mass exodus. "We encourage our members to stay in Iran in order to maintain a critical mass that can protect itself against persecution," he said. "Iran is also the cradle of our faith."