Iranian Baha’is have been denied permission to study at the country’s universities since the downfall of Iran’s pro-West monarch and establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The Baha’i adopted their faith in the 19th century but are considered deviants and are persecuted Iran.
Following the Islamic Revolution, numerous Baha’i university lecturers and students were expelled. Since then, no matter how hard they tried, Baha’is have unsuccessfully tried to regain access to the nation’s universities.
The current Iranian calendar year, beginning March 20, 2020, was no exception. Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Iranian authorities made sure to deprive Baha’is of higher education.
On October 31, Iran’s Human Rights Organization (IHRO) published the names of fifteen Baha’i citizens who were barred from entering universities because of their faith.
Speaking to Radio Farda, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Iqan Shahidi, has shared his experience of being deprived of higher education in Iran.
Born on July 8, 1988, Shahidi was a resident of Kermanshah in West Iran. He took the national university entrance exam in 2006 but was not given his result and instead received a notice of “deficient application,” effectively denying him a university education.
As a member of the Baha’i faith and the Education Rights Committee, Shahidi tried to protest the discrimination. He failed and landed behind bars.
“In 2006, I competed in the national entrance exam. When I demanded the result, the authorities told me that my file was ‘defective.’ I went to the Assessment Organization to follow up. There, they said that I was not allowed to enter the university because I was a member of the Baha’i minority group.” Shahidi said.
Desperate to carry on his education, Shahidi initiated a series of correspondences with various influential groups.
“I even wrote to the members of Majlis (Iranian Parliament),” he said. “I also met our city’s Friday Prayer Imam. I rarely received a response, and if I did, it was limited to confirming my deprivation for being a Baha’i.”
In 2010, Iranian intelligence agents arrested Shahidi, charging him with “membership in an illegal group,” referring to the Education Rights Committee, as well as spreading propaganda against Iran and continuing his membership in the Bahá’í community.
At the preliminary hearing, a notorious fundamentalist judge, Mohammad Moqisseh, sentenced Shahidi to five-years imprisonment.
Later, Branch 54 of the Appeals Court, presided over by another hard-line judge, upheld the verdict.
After serving his five-year sentence, Shahidi was released on January 1, 2017. He was left with no choice other than leaving Iran and emigrating to a country where he could live and carry on his education in a society that respects equal rights.
Shahidi believes that the exclusion of Baha’is from education in Iranian universities is based on the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution (SCCR) directive, which in addition to the barring of Baha’is from serving at public positions, deprives them of a college education as well.
The directive was ratified by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on February 25, 1991.
According to the third clause of the SCCR resolution, not only must officials prevent Baha’is from enrollment in universities, but also, if the individual’s religion is established to be Baha’i, after registration and while studying, they should be deprived of education.
The resolution has effectively excluded Iranian Baha’is from formal education.
A secret entity that offers university courses to Baha’is, the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was founded in 1987 in response to Iran’s continuing campaign to deny Baha’is access to higher education.