Iranian Baha'i students shut out of vocational education

July 31, 2007

NEW YORK, United States — Iranian Baha'is seeking to enter Iran's technical and vocational institutes have been effectively barred from admission for the coming academic year, since the application to sit for the entrance examinations leaves them with no option but to deny their faith, which Baha'is refuse to be coerced into doing.

The Baha'i International Community learned recently that the 2007 form for the entrance examination for undergraduate courses under the technical and vocational education system indicates that only one box may be marked for religion.

The applicant is given three choices - Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Christian - and if none of the boxes is marked, the form explains, the applicant will be considered Muslim. This is unacceptable to Baha'is.

"Under this system, Baha'is cannot fill out the application without a de facto denial of their faith, which is against their religious principles," said Bani Dugal, the Baha'i International Community's principal representative to the United Nations.

"Accordingly, Iranian Baha'is will not be able to take this entrance examination, and so they are effectively blocked this year from obtaining technical and vocational education in Iran.

"Such a denial of access to education violates the internationally established right to education, to which the government of Iran has agreed, and reflects yet another facet of Iran's continuing persecution of the Baha'i community of Iran," said Ms. Dugal.

The Baha'i International Community decries the government's actions not only against Baha'i students - who are deprived of higher education solely for their religious beliefs - but also against any other Iranian students who are being denied access to higher education on clearly insupportable grounds, such as for giving voice to beliefs or opinions that are not officially endorsed, Ms. Dugal said.

Last autumn, after more than 25 years during which Iranian Baha'is were outright banned from attending public and private universities, several hundred Baha'i students were admitted to various educational institutions around the country. This came about after the government stated its position that the reference to religion on entrance examination papers to nonspecialized universities and colleges did not identify university applicants by their religion, but only gave the religious studies subject on which they had been examined. This clarification was accepted by the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith.

The acceptance of Baha'i students at Iranian universities has, however, been short-lived, Ms. Dugal said.

According to the latest figures from Iran, of the Baha'i students who took the national entrance examination last year, ultimately some 200 were admitted and enrolled. Over the course of the school year, however, over half that number - at most recent count, at least 128 - have been expelled as school officials discovered they were Baha'is. This has led observers to conclude that Iran's statements last year were nothing more than a ruse intended to quell international protest over the denial to Baha'i students of access to higher education.

"This latest news about the registration form for technical and vocational education only serves to further confirm that Iran continues to play games with Baha'i students in their country, and that its promises of access to higher education for them are hollow," said Ms. Dugal.

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