(BWNS 27 July 2011) GENEVA — Some nine weeks after they were arrested, 11 Iranian Baha’is – associated with an initiative offering higher education to young community members barred from university – are now reportedly facing charges.
The Baha’i International Community has learned that, by establishing the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, the 11 are accused of “conspiracy against national security” and “conspiracy against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“What could possibly motivate the Islamic Republic to make such a charge?” asks Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
A widespread international outcry has followed the latest attack on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), in which some 39 homes were raided at the end of May. Of the 19 BIHE staff or faculty members who were originally detained in connection with the raids, 11 remain in prison.
The recent targeting of the BIHE is the latest attempt in an ongoing policy to keep Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority on the margins of society. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, young Baha’is have been systematically deprived of higher education. With nowhere else to go to, the community initiated its own educational programme. This, in turn, has come under attack on numerous occasions by the Iranian authorities who have now declared it “illegal.”
“This callous action is all part of a systematic plan to impoverish the Baha’is of Iran,” explains Ms. Ala’i. “The authorities are clearly determined to drive Baha’i youth, who long to contribute to their society, out of their homeland.
“Baha’is have been banned from higher education for three decades. And now, their own peaceful initiative – to meet a need created by the government’s own actions – is branded a conspiracy against the state.
“Iran’s actions are being closely scrutinized at home, and around the world by governments, organizations and fair-minded individuals. It’s time for the international community to vigorously challenge the Iranian government on this matter,” she says.
The families of the 11 prisoners are fearful that their loved ones will be held for a prolonged period.
“We know that in the case of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, they should have been released within two months; the court had not brought forward any evidence to justify their continued imprisonment,” says Ms. Ala’i.
“When the attorneys for the defendants objected to this detention, the court made up new charges against them to justify keeping them in custody. They were illegally held for almost two years under the original writ for their detention.”
The outcry against the latest attack on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education has spanned the world, from Australia to Zambia.
Universities Australia – representing all 39 of the country’s universities – raised the issue on 28 June with the Director-General of UNESCO. “Australian universities are united in their strong support for facilitating access to education for all, irrespective of religious faith,” the organization wrote.
In a statement on 1 June, Austria‘s Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger described the restriction of access to education for young Baha’is as “unacceptable.”
Congressman Luiz Couto, former president of Brazil‘s Human Rights and Minorities Commission, told the Brazilian National Congress on 2 June, “The action of the authorities towards individuals associated with the BIHE demonstrate the clear intention of Iranian government to carry out their policy of the elimination of the Baha’i community.”
Senator Mobina Jaffer – the first Muslim woman appointed to Canada‘s upper house – informed the Canadian Senate on 21 June that the attacks are “not only on the students and the faculty of the Baha’i education institute, but on the cherished idea that education is the birthright of all.”
In Chile, on 15 June, the Senate unanimously asked President Sebastian Pinera to “strongly condemn” Iran for its “rigorous and systematic persecution of Baha’is.” The resolution specifically mentioned the arrests of BIHE faculty and staff, objecting to the “unjust detention of those individuals.”
Professors from Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities in England wrote an open letter on 11 June, calling for academics, students and politicians to support the right of Baha’is to access higher education in Iran. “The authorities must be taught that human rights are universal,” they wrote to The Guardian newspaper. “Barring Baha’is from university exposes the government’s own ignorance.”
Thousands of postcards have been dispatched in all regions of France and the Netherlands, describing the situation. Radio features about the postcard campaign were broadcast on French radio stations.
On 9 June, Christoph Strasser, Member of Germany‘s Parliament and spokesperson on human rights of the Social Democrats, addressed a letter of protest to the Iranian ambassador to Germany. “All humans have the right to education,” wrote Mr. Strasser. “With Baha’is being prohibited from studying at universities, your government is injuring fundamental human rights.”
Condemning the raids and arrests, New Zealand‘s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, described the denial of higher education to the Baha’is in Iran as “reprehensible.”
Some 80 prominent citizens of India signed a petition to the Iranian Government calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners. “The consequences of this policy of disallowing the Baha’i youth to have access to higher education will be detrimental not only for the Baha’i community of Iran, but also for the nation as a whole,” they wrote.
The Chairman of Ireland‘s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, along with members of the Committee – which includes Members of Parliament and Senators – met with Iran’s Ambassador to Ireland and raised the matter with him, requesting that the Ambassador convey their concerns to his authorities in Tehran. The Ambassador undertook to do so.
The Al Seyassah newspaper in Kuwait published an article on 24 May reporting the attack against BIHE.
Students at the University of Zambia launched a two-week long postcard campaign “in support of BIHE and the right to education.” The postcard depicted Zambian students on one side and – on the other – a message for Iran’s minister of science, research and technology stating “Baha’is should be able to enter universities as faculty and staff and as students who can get a degree.”
“We continue to call upon governments, organizations and people everywhere to urge Iran to allow Baha’is their fundamental human right to education and to release these prisoners immediately,” says Diane Ala’i.
The Baha’i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing – and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community.
Another Special Report includes articles and background information about Iran’s campaign to deny higher education to Baha’is. It contains a summary of the situation, feature articles, case studies and testimonials from students, resources and links.
The International Reaction page of the Baha’i World News service is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals, to actions taken against the Baha’is of Iran.
The Media Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world.