Open letter to Iran calls for an end to oppression of students

August 27, 2011
The 16 Baha'is initially detained after Iranian authorities raided around 30 homes associated with staff and faculty of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education, in May this year. Most recent information indicates that 11 remain in prison.

NEW YORK, United States — In an open letter to Iran's minister for higher education, the Baha'i International Community is calling for an end to "the unjust and oppressive practices" that bar Baha'is and other young Iranians from university.

Read the letter in English here

Read the letter in Persian here

"This letter affirms every person's duty to acquire knowledge so that they can contribute their talents and skills to the betterment of society," said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"To actively deprive any youth of education is reprehensible and against all legal, religious, moral, and humanitarian standards. No government should deny this fundamental and sacred right to its citizens."

The five-page letter addressed to Kamran Daneshjoo, Iran's Minister of Science, Research and Technology, recounts in particular the history of Iran's systematic, 30-year campaign to deny higher education to young Baha'is and its attempts to outlaw an informal community arrangement – known as the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – which makes use of the volunteer services of dismissed professors to teach Baha'i youth.

Press reports in Iran have recently announced that BIHE has been declared illegal.

"How is it that a government would debar a population of young citizens from access to higher education and then, when their families, with the help of one another, make private arrangements that bring them together in their homes to study such subjects as physics and biology, pronounce such activity to be 'illegal' by citing laws that are in fact intended to guide the operation of educational institutions that serve the general public?" asks the open letter.

"Why is the government so ruthless in the face of the earnestness of Baha'i youth to obtain higher education? Are not the professors in your universities calling upon their own students to cultivate the same commitment to learning?"

Official government policy

The letter catalogs various strategies employed by the Iranian authorities over the years to enact an official government policy to exclude Baha'is from institutions of higher learning.

Baha'is sit for the university entrance examination, "only to discover that they have been disqualified on the wholly specious claim that their applications were "incomplete". Universities refuse to enroll many of those who pass the examination. A small number who are able to enroll because their religion is overlooked at the time of registration are later expelled. In some particularly cruel instances, these expulsions have been effected just weeks or days prior to the completion of their courses of study."

"To any careful observer," the letter says, "it is evident that the only reason a few Baha'i youth have been admitted into your universities is that such actions permit your government's officials to deny that you prohibit Baha'is from gaining access to higher education – a claim that is blatantly duplicitous."

A "fresh measure of tribulation"

"And now a fresh measure of tribulation has befallen the Baha'is," the letter continues, "as they are subjected to harsh treatment in interrogations about their involvement with their informal efforts for the education of youth. Individuals who assist with the educational program are threatened with imprisonment. Parents who host classes are notified that their homes will be expropriated if the classes continue. And students are warned against attending their classes and are instructed that they will never obtain a higher education so long as they do not abandon their faith and declare themselves to be Muslims."

Yet, the letter remarks, when representatives of the Iranian government are confronted with these facts in the international arena, they maintain that no one is deprived of education in Iran on religious grounds.

"How regrettable that the representatives of the Islamic Republic repeatedly peddle such obvious falsehoods, further undermining your government's credibility. When will the officials in Iran bring to an end the entrenched practice of saying one thing to Baha'is while offering a range of conflicting reassurances on the global stage?"

Despite being denied higher education and never receiving formal qualifications, many students of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education have excelled to such a degree that universities in other countries have accepted them for post-graduate studies.

"What has evoked the deep admiration of the professors and classmates of those who have gone abroad for such studies," the letter says, "is the determination evinced by these students to return to Iran after the completion of their studies despite the numerous obstacles they face, and their readiness to accept every manner of hardship in their longing to contribute to the advancement of their country..."

"Why is such dedication to the betterment of the country unappreciated in Iran?" the Baha'i International Community asks.

Worldwide condemnation

The latest attack on the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education has prompted a global outcry. The raids three months ago on the homes of BIHE staff and faculty members, and the subsequent imprisonment of a number of them, has been condemned in the parliaments of Brazil, Canada and Chile; censured by high-ranking ministers and parliamentarians in Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States; provoked statements from prominent citizens in India and educators in Australia and the United Kingdom; and prompted campaigns of protest from organizations and individuals, which proliferate through online social networks and around university campuses on all continents.

The letter also recounts instances where many government officials to whom Baha'is appeal for redress – including staff in the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology itself – sympathize with Baha'is while telling them that their hands are tied by orders from their superiors.

"With this letter, we are joining with all those people of goodwill throughout the world who are raising their voices in protest," said Bani Dugal.

"We are saying to the Iranian government that this injustice and oppression must now end."

Baha'i World News Service coverage of the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

*The Baha'i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes further articles and background information about Iran's campaign to deny higher education to Baha'is. It contains news of latest developments, a summary of the situation, feature articles, case studies and testimonials from students, resources and links. *

*Another Special Report offers articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing – and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran's Baha'i community. *

*The International Reaction page of the Baha'i World News service is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals, to actions taken against the Baha'is of Iran. *

*The Media Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world. *