Farzad Safaei was one semester away from a bachelor’s degree in industrial metallurgy at the Islamic Azad University in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, when he was expelled on May 20, 2017 by the security office for being a member of the Baha’i faith.
“In all my four years at the university I concealed my faith, even from my classmates and professors because I didn’t want to be prevented from studying,” Safaei told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “I didn’t even talk about it outside the university, but I was suddenly expelled because of my faith.”
Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Although Article 23 states “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” Bahai’is are denied many basic rights as one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in the country.
“One day I noticed I couldn’t log onto the university’s website to select courses,” Safaei told CHRI. “I went to the security office to ask what the problem was. To be honest, based on what had happened to other expelled Baha’i students, I had a feeling what had happened, but I was still hoping it was only a mistake.”
He added: “The university’s security director first asked why I had not filled out the enrollment form correctly. I replied that everything was correct. He put the form in front of me and told me to read it. I did and he said, ‘Are you sure you wrote everything down correctly?’ I said I was sure. He said, ‘Why don’t we go over it together?’ When he got to the multiple choice question about religious affiliation, he said, ‘Is this correct?’ I had left the box empty because none of the choices included my religion. He said, ‘Add your religion right now.’ Then I wrote down my religion in a box next to the other religions.”
Continued Safaei: “When the security director saw I wrote Baha’i as my religion he said, ‘Don’t you know Baha’is have no right to go to university? Why did you enroll in the first place? You’re like a car low on fuel that wants to go far. You knew you would get stuck eventually.’”
“I said, ‘When I went to my first class I sat in the front row, clicked my heels and told myself it’s possible I could be removed from this desk,” added Safaei. “Yes, I knew my religion could one day jeopardize my education.’”
Safaei continued: “I told him, ‘If you had asked me on day one if I was a Baha’i, I would have said yes. But like other young people, I dreamed about going to university and to study behind a university desk. You are denying me this right because of my religion.’
“When I posted the news about my expulsion on Instagram, many of my professors and classmates were shocked and questioned why someone should be denied an education for having a different religion,” Safaei told CHRI. “They were sympathetic.”
Baha’is continue to be denied the right to higher education in Iran, either by being banned from entering university or being expelled without a proper explanation once enrolled in the school.
At least 15 Baha’i students were expelled from Iranian universities between December 2016 and January 2017, with at least another six university students expelled January 2017 through May.
According to Article 1 of Iran’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council’s Student Qualification Regulations, approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 1991, students who take the national enrollment exam must either be Muslim or followers of other constitutionally sanctioned religions. Article 3 states that if a student is discovered to be a Baha’i after enrolling in a university, he or she will be expelled.