Call for Iran to release Baha’i academics

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[The Australian, 10 Oct. 2011, JILL ROWBOTHAM] ACADEMICS in Australia are to protest to the Iranian ambassador about educational discrimination against Baha’is in their homeland.

Fazel Naghdy has gathered signatures from 73 academics, including University of Ballarat vice-chancellor David Battersby, objecting to the longstanding ban on Baha’is attending university, and the arrest earlier this year of 16 Baha’i academics.

Professor Naghdy, head of the school of electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering at the University of Wollongong, said six were still detained. The academics had been working for the alternative university created by the community, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.

The letter from the academics says: “We understand many of those arrested are still in prison simply for being part of an initiative which provides higher education to those otherwise denied access to Iranian universities” and calls for their immediate release.

It also calls for Iran to “make higher education accessible for . . . members of the Baha’i faith”.

Professor Naghdy said he had been inspired by a similar letter published in British newspaper over the issue.

“I fully understand how painful it can be to be deprived of (higher education), so I thought somehow we have to do as much as we can to stop this injustice,” Professor Naghdy said.

Baha’is were banned from attending university in Iran in the late 1970s. Professor Naghdy was among the last of them to graduate from the University of Tehran and lost a scholarship to Britain when his religion was discovered.

He left Iran in 1978 to study in Britain, migrated to Australia in 1989 and has been teaching Iranian Baha’is online for the institute for the past seven years. Baha’is say they are the biggest religious minority in Iran and estimate their numbers at about 300,000.

Professor Naghdy will not disclose estimates of the number of students studying through the institute, nor its staff.

However, he said, several graduates of the institute had been accepted into higher degree programs in Australia, including at Wollongong, the University of Technology, Sydney, and RMIT University.

“Some of them have done so well they have completed coursework masters and won PhD scholarships,” Professor Naghdy said.

“They are hardworking students, they don’t waste their time.”

Attempts to contact the Iranian embassy were unsuccessful.



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