Baha’is Barred from Entering University for the Fortieth Year in a Row

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Kian Sabeti

 We deprived of higher education two generations of Baha’i compatriots... Now it is the turn of a third generation," civil rights activist Mehdi Mahmoudian said this week
 We deprived of higher education two generations of Baha’i compatriots… Now it is the turn of a third generation,” civil rights activist Mehdi Mahmoudian said this week
“We deprived of higher education two generations of Baha’i compatriots who made their way through primary school and high school by suffering thousands of humiliations and insults. Now it is the turn of a third generation. Do you hear this, you who claim to be enjoying the greatest democracy in the world? Three generations of this country’s citizens have been deprived of education.”

Thus tweeted Mehdi Mahmoudian, an Iranian political and human rights activist, who was imprisoned for five years and sentenced to another five after the results of this year’s nationwide university entrance exams were announced in Iran. As expected, Baha’i students once again blocked from entering higher education, regardless of their grades.

On Friday, October 30, Ebrahim Khodaei, head of the Iran’s National Organization of Educational Testing, announced that this year’s results of 2020 had been posted on the organization’s website. Participants, he said, could visit the site, enter their registration number and other personal information, and then view their personal results.

As in previous years, when Baha’i students logged on this year, they found that their records were flagged with the words “incomplete dossier”: a catch-all term the testing organization has been using for more than a decade now to stop students known to belong to the Baha’i community from progressing to the next stage in their education.

At the time of writing, IranWire had received the names of 14 Baha’i participants who have been locked out of the grading system because of an “incomplete dossier”. They were Parsa Seyed Ahmad, Shahrad Mohammad-Zadeh (who ranked 653rd in the nationwide entrance exams), Kimia Manouchehri, Setareh Izadi, Kian Laghaee, Aria Sheikh Zavareh, Marjan Abbas-Pouli, Faran Ghodratyan, Vahid Sadeghi, Mobina Hooshmandi, Arshia Eshraghi, Shamim Idelkhani (who ranked 686th), Aryan Dehghani (2000th) and Sayena Shafizadeh. More will be added to this list as they become available.


Khamenei’s Double Standard

Two days before the results of the entrance exams were announced, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published a message aimed at “the French youth”. Following the fallout over French President Emmanual Macron’s refusal to denounce a murdered French teacher who had shown images of the Prophet Muhammad in class, he demanded: “Ask your president why he supports insulting God’s messenger in the name of freedom of expression. Does freedom of expression mean insulting, especially insulting a sacred person? Isn’t this stupid act an insult to the intellect of the people who elected him?”

In other words, Khamenei took President Macron to task for siding with those who had “insulted” the religious beliefs of others.

When the results of Iran’s university entrance exams were announced, several people took to social media to demand a similar response from Khamenei. “Ask the French youth: Isn’t it an insult to the intellect of a nation when its youths are deprived from a university education for their beliefs?” a Twitter user under the name of Atish asked.

For four decades now, the Islamic Republic of Iran has denied a countless number of its own citizens from entering higher education because of their religious beliefs. This despite the fact that Article 23 of Iran’s post-revolutionary constitution clearly states: “The investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

According to Article 30 of the same constitution, “the government is obliged to make available, free of charge, educational facilities for all, up to the close of the secondary stage, and to expand free facilities for higher education up to the limits of the country’s own capacity.”


Not a ‘Legitimate’ Religion

The banning of Baha’is from entering higher education began in 1980, with the so-called “Cultural Revolution” in Iran. Hundreds of Baha’i university students, teachers and professors were summarily and unceremoniously expelled from Iran’s higher education institutions.

The first nationwide entrance exams after the Cultural Revolution were held in 1982. One of the conditions for entrants was that they be Muslims or the followers of three other “recognized” religions –  Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism – and the registration form only offered these four choices to applicants. Baha’is could not check any of these four choices, so honest candidates either wrote “Baha’i” outright on the form, or left the space blank.

Because most Baha’i applicants refused to lie about their religious beliefs on their application forms, for more than 20 years no known Baha’i received the pass to participate in the nationwide exams. In the early years, the National Organization of Educational Testing instead sent letters to Baha’i applicants to say that they “did not meet the general requirements”. In later years, it simply stopped responding.

In 2004, however, the testing organization changed tack and abruptly declared that this multiple-choice question about religion was referring not to applicants’ personal beliefs, but to the religion that they wanted to be tested on. That year, hundreds of Baha’i applicants who had been refused entry in the past chose “Islam” and were able to take their exams.

But after the exams took place, and one day before the registration process began, a group of Baha’i participants were invited to the offices of the National Organization of Educational Testing in Karaj, near Tehran. It was a public holiday, but the atmosphere in the place felt like a security establishment. The applicants were guided through empty hallways and into a series of rooms where a few people in civilian clothes were sat waiting for them. There, they were told that they could not register because they were Baha’is. Those applicants who did not attend that day never received an answer from the testing organization and could not register.

Since 2006, Baha’i applicants have been faced with the blank response of “incomplete dossier” after taking part in the entrance exams. At the same time, some Baha’is who managed to bypass the system earlier in their academic careers have been expelled from universities, after either the Intelligence Ministry or the university’s own security teams learned they were not following one of the “legitimate” religions.

Baha’i applicants and students have been told by their would-be educators that the reason they cannot progress further is not university policy, but a decision approved by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution some 30 years ago, on February 25, 1991. The edict, signed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, states in paragraph 3-B: “If before entering the universities or afterwards it is proven that a student is a Baha’i, that student shall be deprived of studying at the university.”


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