In December 2010, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) published a document titled, Punishing Stars: Systematic Discrimination and Exclusion in Iranian Higher Education, which – based on interviews with students barred from higher education – highlighted how the Iranian government through close coordination between its Ministries of Intelligence and Science, has systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism as well as to exclude Baha’i students because of their religious beliefs.
Since 2005, the term “starred students” has entered Iranian discourse on higher education, indicating a mechanism for discrimination against, and exclusion of, students from higher education based solely on their political beliefs, the exercise of their freedom of expression, and in the case of Baha’i students, their religious beliefs. Students interviewed by the Campaign who had been shut out of universities included some who had among the highest scores on competitive national entrance examinations.
Punishing Stars reported how Baha’i youth are forced to not specify their religion on applications, as any university found to have Baha’i students is ordered to expel them.
The report says:
The denial of higher education to Baha’i youth is part of a systematic, government sanctioned programme of persecution and discrimination against Baha’is. Like student activists, some Baha’i students are screened out during the admissions process, through their applications being designated by the Ministry of Science as incomplete – in other words, being given two stars.
A Baha’i student who was deprived of the right to higher education in 2007 told the Campaign,
“I was barred from education even before enrolling as an undergraduate. Instead of receiving my college entrance exam results, the phrase “your file is incomplete’ was sent to me and thus I never got the chance to enroll.”
One Baha’i who took the university entrance exam, told the ICHRI:
Every year following the entrance exam, the phrase “your file is incomplete,’ would appear instead of my exam results. This was exactly the same process faced by all of my Baha’i friends at the time. Obviously, if there were anything missing from our files, they would not have issued us the ID card necessary for taking the entrance exam in the first place. I took the examination in 2005, 2006, and 2007, but I was not able to enter the university.
Some Baha’i students manage to gain access to universities, only to be expelled by the Ministry of Science once their faith is uncovered. A student from Senaii University in the city of Isfahan and barred from higher education, told the ICHRI that a large number of Baha’i students are barred from higher education:
I come from a Baha’i family. This was cited in a Ministry of Science letter as grounds for my dismissal from Isfahan’s Senaii University in 2008, after I had finished two terms studying English Translation. I should add that most of my classmates did not know anything about my being a Baha’i, it had never been discussed. Usually Baha’i students are dismissed after a ruling arrives from the Ministry of Science’s Security Department. The Ministry of Information has all the statistics on Baha’i families; they identify [the students] and carry out the expulsion. Baha’is don’t conceal their belief because it is forbidden for them. If someone asks them they announce that they are Baha’i.
Objections have been conveyed to the Ministry of Science, the Sanjesh Organization, and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution both in writing and in person, but authorities refuse to provide any answers, claiming innocence in the matter.
Another student who was barred from continuing her education because she is a Baha’i, said:
I finished my first semester completely. In my second semester, when I tried to enroll for classes, I saw a form that indicated my religion as “Islam-Shi’a.’ I requested a correction to my form. So the form was changed to reflect my religion as “Other.’ However, after about two weeks, they told me to go to the university to follow-up. I went to the authorities and they announced that they didn’t know exactly what needed to be done, telling me to go to the Ministry of Science’s Sanjesh Organization. They kept sending me and my father from the Education Deputy’s Office to other offices within the Ministry of Science. They told us, “We don’t know for sure what you need to do,’ and in the end, they said that the university would have to write a letter to the Ministry of Science. University authorities said, however, that they couldn’t give me a letter.
After going to the University, we were told that we had to go to the Sanjesh Organization, where they answered us just like the Ministry of Science. In the end, when we went back to the University, we were told that we had to withdraw our applications. They were trying to convince us to withdraw, so that there would be no mention of a dismissal. I didn’t withdraw, and presently my educational status is “Suspended Registration.’
Another reported being barred from education for being a Baha’i:
After several days of going to the university Security Office, the Head of Security told me that, “The problem with your file is about religion,’ because I had not picked any of the available four choices. My answer was clear, I did not pick because I did not believe in any of the four religions mentioned on the form. Finally, upon his request, I wrote on the form that I follow the Baha’i Faith, and after several days, he served a verbal message to me from the University Chancellor, Dr. Akbari, which said because of my belief in the Baha’i Faith, I will no longer be able to register for classes and study in this university.
A student who was dismissed and barred from education at Tabriz’s Sahand University in 2008, reportedly for being a Baha’i, said in a public letter:
I contacted the university officials several times. They disavowed knowledge and gave me hope that I would continue my education just like the rest of the students. Today, 4 March 2008, even my [biographical] details were deleted from the website, and when I tried to enter the website, I got the message “This User Is Inactive.’ When I saw this message, I contacted the University. After several hours, finally Ms. Cheraghi, Office Manager for the University Chancellor, answered my call and told me, “The Sanjesh Organization has deleted your name from the list on the website and the only way to follow up your case is through them.’ When I asked for the reason for this action, she hung up and did not answer my calls anymore.
Another Baha’i reported to the Campaign that authorities barred him from continuing his education “without any legal basis,” and “as a result of my legal pursuit of the rights of students who are deprived from their education.” He said:
“I was told that according to a resolution of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, Baha’is are prevented from studying at universities.”
An Agricultural Engineering student at Sari’s Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources University, reported that she and a classmate were expelled and barred from education for being Baha’is:
When [her classmate] went to the University Chancellor to inquire about her expulsion decision, the Assistant Chancellor told her “your friend [he meant me] is about to be expelled, too.’ I participated in an 11 March Conference about the Wahabi Sect. A cleric at the conference started saying, “Baha’is are Russian spies,’ and insulted my beliefs as much as he could. I couldn’t tolerate it, so I stood up in the middle of many other students and defended my beliefs. The atmosphere became quite tense. In the end, we got to the point where the cleric was at a loss for words. According to what the Vice Chancellor told Sona Gholinejad, this incident finalized my expulsion. Of course this incident had a profound impact among the University students. After this incident, University authorities had to hold a conference called, “A Historical Critique of the Baha’i Cult” at the University. I didn’t participate in the conference for a number of reasons.Return to top