(Tehran – HRA) Following the diligent work of the Committee on the Right to Education for the Bahá’ís which operates under the umbrella of the Human Rights Activists Association in Iran, two simultaneous forums were held in Tehran and Shiraz with the committee members and several guests present.
This unprecedented forum was held today in Tehran. The photographs of student prisoners on display punctuated the importance of this meeting.
The meeting was chaired by Niloufar Mehrabi, who opened the session with remarks on the right to education and the importance of implementing it.
The first speaker, Mr. Abolfazl Abedini, the head of public relations for the Association, recounted the executive activities of the Association and the various functions of its committees. He specifically named publication of books, monthly newsletters, educational workshops, legal sup port for victims of violation of human rights, and an international presence and reporting on the issue of human rights as the primary activities of the Association. He also mentioned the burden of costs that has been imposed on the Association by its activities and noted that the resilience of the Association in the face of these costs demonstrates its resolve and commitment to the rule of law.
The second speaker, Mr. Hessam Missaghi, a member of the Committee on the Right to Education for the Bahá’ís, introduced his Committee, its history, and its mission statement. He stated that one of the missions of the committee is to consolidate its activities which address the deprivation of large numbers of Bahá’í young men and women of the right to education. Mr. Missaghi further elucidated the need for unity amongst various student organizations, and noted that the Committee he represents serves as a bridge between students whose right to education has been violated and human rights organizations. Another mission of the Committee, he continued, is to collect statistics on the students who are currently deprived of their right to higher education.
Mr. Missaghi, who has been deprived of higher education, requested other activists in the forum to continue to write articles on this matter and to assist the committee with their active reporting and follow-up.
The next speaker was Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, attorney and university professor, who received an ovation from the crowd upon standing at the podium. Dr. Ahmadi began his remarks with an expression of disappointment as an educator to learn that there are students who, on the basis of their religious affiliation, have been deprived of access to education. He further continued that such a course of action is in stark contrast to the Iranian Constitution. He noted that Article 9 of the Iranian Civil Law clearly states that the International Covenants to which Iran is a signatory must be observed. He also noted the third chapter of the Constitution, especially Articles 15 through 43 that point to individual rights and liberties and consider the right to education to be universal. He recounted his memory that as a student he had been involved in significant activism, and since the university was considered as an independent entity, his activities never led to his suspension or violation of his rights as a student.
He quoted an Islamic tradition stating, “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” He interpreted this statement to mean that anyone who desires to obtain an education has the right to do so.
He continued that even if the authorities who deny the right to education believe that their subjects are “infidels” according to Islam, there is distinction between “infidels by birth” and “infidels by will”. As such, people who are born into families who may be considered as “infidels” may not carry the burden of sin. As an example, he stated that if he we re born in a different country, he might well be a follower of a different religion. This, he said, cannot be grounds for denying anyone their right to education.
Dr. Ahmadi considered this matter very simple within the framework of Islamic beliefs, and stated that any country has certain obligations to its citizens that must be honored. This human rights activist closed his speech with the hope of a future in which no one would be deprived of education on the basis of his or her beliefs. He speech roused the audience to cheers.
The chairwoman, Ms. Mehrabi, then invited Salman Sima, a student activist from Azad University, to take the podium.
At the outset, Salman Sima expressed his astonishment at the numbers of students who have been denied their right to education on the basis of their beliefs. In his belief, deprivation from education is equivalent to execution or to denial of life. This student activist recounted the trend of deprivation at Azad University dating back six years and stated that many students had been suspended. He also quoted the Constitution and international covenants, and noted that the right to education is inalienable. He also noted that the passing of the bill on affirmative action on the basis of gender is another example of deprivation of education. He concluded his speech by stating, “The right to education for a student is as the right to life for a human.”
Next, Holaku Rahmanian, a student deprived of education on the basis=2 0of his belief in the Bahá’í Faith, despite his extraordinary performance in the national entrance examination, was invited to the podium. He recited the letters recounting his difficulties in obtaining admission into any university, and noted the obstables that led to his eventual denial of admission. He stated that the authorities told him that his religion was the reason for this denial.
The editor-in-chief of the Association, Behzad Mehrani, took the microphone next at the request of the chairwoman. He began his speech by noting his sense of relief that unlike past decades when the right to life for Bahá’ís was in question, discourse is now focused on their right to education. This activist performed a cursory review of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights as a feature of the modern world. He characterized the modern human as one with wisdom and freedom of choice, and the traditional human as one who is bound by customs. He noted that in the modern world, a human is respected solely on the basis of being human. He concluded by stating that no power should have the permission to deny anyone the right to education.
The next speaker was Saghar Miri, a student deprived of education. She reviewed the historic background of the denial of education to Bahá’ís after the Islamic Revolution, and then reviewed the events of 2007 that led to a few admissions for Bahá’í students. As one of these students, she had been admitted to the Bachelor’s=2 0degree program in English interpretation at Shahr-e-Noor University. However, after three months of enrollment she was denied the right to continue her education. She expressed her gratitude to the association for its efforts to reclaim the right to education.
The next speaker was Mr. Towfigh, a university professor, who rejected the notion that anyone should have his civil rights put in jeopardy on the basis of affiliation with a philosophy or an unrecognized religion. He reviewed the articles of law that support his statements. He also noted that even within Islamic jurisprudence the right to education is considered inalienable, and the act of silencing of belief itself constitutes deprivation of education. He expressed the need to revise the current policies and procedures for admissions offices that lead to deprivation of education for students, as they are in contrast with the Constitution.
The last speaker of the forum was Mehdi Khodai, a student activist in charge of the Student Affairs Division of the Association. He recited the Association’s closing statement, and concluded by saying, “We hope that this forum will open the door for future forums, and to the expansion of its focus to defending the human rights of all Iranian citizens.”
Mehdi Khodai continued, “The Association of Human Rights Activists in Iran expresses its grave concern regarding the authorities’ use of invented laws and policies that are contrary to the Constitution and international covenants to which the Islamic Republic is a signatory. The Association is hopeful that such gross violations of human rights will cease in the future, and that all groups and ethnicities will enjoy all their inalienable human rights.”
At the conclusion of the forum, a book entitled “An Introduction to Removal of All Types of Discrimination Against Women” was distributed among the audience.