On 25 October, Azita Rafizadeh was called to begin a five-year imprisonment for the “crime” of supporting an informal initiative to provide young Iranian Baha’is deprived of higher education with the opportunity to study.
Mrs. Rafizadeh’s husband, Payman Koushk-Baghi, also wrongly convicted on a similar charge, is currently awaiting imprisonment.
If and when Mr. Koushk-Baghi is summoned, it will deprive their six-year-old son, Bashir, of his parents and place his care and education in the hands of others.
“The circumstances of this case are absurd,” said Diane Ala’i, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
“Here we have a child who may at any time be deprived of his parents’ care, not because of any heinous or harmful criminal activity, but simply because they tried to help educate youth who were banned from university by the authorities solely because of their religious beliefs,” said Ms. Ala’i.
Mrs. Rafizadeh and Mr. Koushk-Baghi, who are from Karaj, were among more than 16 Baha’is who were arrested in May 2011 when Iranian authorities raided more than 30 homes targeting individuals supporting the operations of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
The BIHE is an informal, volunteer effort developed to meet the educational needs of young Baha’is who have been systematically denied access to higher education by the Iranian government.
In February 2013, Mr. Koushk-Baghi and Mrs. Azita Rafizadeh were called in for questioning and told that if they promised to stop their involvement with the BIHE, their case would be dropped. They refused the offer.
The couple is supported in their stance by international human rights law, which makes it a crime to deprive students of access to higher education – not a crime to provide it.
In May 2014, they were both summoned to appear in court. Mr. Koushk-Baghi was sentenced to five years and Mrs. Rafizadeh to four years imprisonment.
“We hope that the Iranian government will take immediately the necessary steps to prevent Mr. Koushk-Baghi from being summoned to serve his sentence and to release Mrs. Rafizadeh,” said Ms. Ala’i.
The case of Bashir and his parents is not an isolated incident. Previously, Mr. Kamran Rahimian and his wife, Ms. Faran Hessami, also associated with the BIHE, were both imprisoned, leaving their two year old child in the care of relatives.
“The lengths to which Iran will go to prevent young Baha’is from obtaining higher education have grown more and more convoluted and extreme,” said Ms. Ala’i.
“The story of this couple and many others are pitiful examples of a state-sponsored campaign which, in the end, only deprives Iran of the valuable contributions that could be made by some of the country’s best and brightest young people.”