By Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, Die Welt, 12-Dec-2008
Editor’s note: A german translation of this article can be found at http://europeandemocracy.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13278&catid=4&Itemid=22
Universal human rights are being trampled underfoot in the Islamic “Republic” of Iran. In particular, the Baha’is in Iran are regarded as people with no rights.
On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the organisation known as Human Rights Activists In Iran recalled a demonstration held in Tehran on 7 December 1953. At this demonstration, intended to show solidarity with the then prime minister Mossadegh, three Iranian students were shot dead: Shariat Razavi, Ghandchi and Bozorgnia. Since then, 7 December has been known as Student Day in Iran.
This year, too, several hundred students gathered in front of the main building of Tehran University. Their demands included the release of students from Iranian prisons and an end to discrimination against Iranian women.
State ban on education for Baha’is
On 7 December 2008, Human Rights Activists in Iran published a statement by two Baha’i students issued on behalf of all Baha’is not allowed to study in Iran. Navid Khanjani and Hesam Misaqi linked this statement to the events of 7 December 1953.
Today, 55 years later, many young Iranians are denied the right to university education. For more than 30 years, the Iranian Bahai’s have had no civil rights. Until 2004, they did not even have the right to sit the university admission exam. While it is true that a few have enrolled in the past few years, most of them have been driven out of university, again solely because of their religious beliefs. A handful of Baha’is are currently allowed to study at Iranian universities in an attempt to limit international criticism.
Khanjani and Misaqi rightly speak of a “cultural crime” since each year about 1,000 new applicants for university places are turned down and not allowed to study purely because of their beliefs. The students point out that Hossein Amanat, the architect of Tehran University, built before the Islamic Revolution, was a Baha’i. Amanat also built the Azadi Tower, the city’s landmark. Today, however, Iranian students who are Baha’is like Amanat are apparently no longer allowed to study at the very university that was designed by a Baha’i.
The first girls’ school in Iran was also founded by Baha’is in 1909. It was later closed following pressure from fanatical clerics. Today, the children of those who instituted such schools are no longer allowed to study at Iranian universities.
While Khanjani and Misaqi did not take part in this year’s student actions, they nonetheless wholeheartedly supported the Iranian student activists. Khanjani and Misaqi hope that one day they will be free to take part in campaigns involving students of all beliefs and persuasions.
Graveyard desecrations sanctioned by state (and arbitrary detentions)
On 9 December 2008, Human Rights Activists in Iran again reported on the systematic destruction of Baha’i cemeteries. Although the destruction of Baha’i graves is nothing new, this phenomenon has definitely increased over the past few months.
The human rights organisation delivered a report on the Baha’i cemetery in Qaemshahr, created on a plot of land given to the Baha’i community by Abdolqani Abdi about 100 years ago. As early as 1983, a number of Muslims living near the cemetery prevented Baha’is burying their dead there. The bodies had to be buried in a cemetery in Darzikola.
This cemetery has been repeatedly vandalised over the past few months. On 12 May 2008, the Baha’i community was warned by the Iranian secret service in Qaemshahr not to bury its dead in Darzikola either.
No permission was granted to establish a new cemetery. At the same time two members of the Baha’i community were arbitrarily detained in the region of Mazandaran. On 23 October the Darzikola cemetery was destroyed by bulldozers, with only a few gravestones surviving the destruction. The Baha’i cemetery was subsequently attacked twice more, on 3 November and 22 November, to destroy the remaining gravestones.
The right to freedom of education
The Intelligence Service Ministry has a new representative in the province of Mazandaran. According to Iranpresswatch, it is highly likely that the new representative will use paramilitary forces to desecrate these Baha’i graves.
Iranpresswatch also reported that three Baha’i social workers in Yasuj had been detained on 23 November 2008. Ruhiyyih Yazdani, Zulaykha Musavi and Ali-Askar Ravanbakhsh have helped children aged between five and seven from poor families to read and write. They were accused of being a “threat to national security” because they wanted to help children to lead a better life.
As Timesonline reported, on the 60th anniversary of the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, professors, clerics, writers and politicians have spoken up for the Iranian Baha’is and called for the right to freedom of education for Bahai in Iran:
Lord Parekh of Kingston-upon-Hull; Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws; Deborah Orr; Mairead Corrigan Maguire; Nobel Peace Laureate; Professor Stephen Chan; Department of Political and International Studies, SOAS; Professor Geraldine van Bueren; Queen Mary University of London; Professor Peter Finn; Principal, St Mary University College, Belfast; Professor Tony Gallagher; School of Education; St. Mary’s University College, Belfast; Lord Gifford; Bishop Idris Jones; Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church; The Right Rev David Lunan; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Norman Richardson; Stranmillis College, Belfast; Pierrot Ngadi; Co-ordinator , Refugee Wales; Francis Davis; Director, International Young Leaders Network; Patrick Yu, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, Professor Colin Sucking; Former Vice Principal, University of Strathclyde, The Most Rev. Keith Patrick O’Brien, Cardinal and Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.