Since 1979, the government of Iran has systematically sought to deprive young Baha’is of access to higher education. At first, when Baha’is identified themselves on college entrance exams, they were categorically rejected. More recently, in the face of international pressure, Iran has officially dropped religious identification requirements on entrance exams. The government has nevertheless sought to prevent Baha’is from attending university by manipulating their computer records before matriculation or expelling them from university once their religious identity is made known.
In response, the Baha’i community of Iran has established its own ad hoc educational initiatives, the most prominent of which is the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Founded in 1987, the BIHE initially made use of the volunteer services of Baha’i professors and lecturers who had been dismissed from their university posts, operating largely by correspondence. Later, classes and laboratory work were carried out in private homes and basements. Online studies were added in more recent years.
Hundreds of young Baha’is have received unofficial degrees from the BIHE, and many have gone on to win entrance to graduate schools around the world.
This effort by the Baha’i community to meet the educational needs of their youth has faced numerous efforts by the government to shut it down. In September and October 1998, government agents staged a series of sweeping raids, arresting at least 36 members of the BIHE’s faculty and staff and confiscating much of its equipment and records, which were located in over 500 homes. Other raids were launched in 2001 and 2003.
In May 2011, government agents arrested 17 Baha’i educators and staff affiliated with the BIHE in a coordinated raid in some 40 households in several cities across Iran.
Ultimately, seven of that group, along with six others who were arrested later, were put on trial on broad charges of “membership in the perverse sect of Bahaism and activity against the security of the country” because of their involvement with the BIHE. They were wrongly convicted and sentenced to terms of from four to five years in prison.
Two of the 13 were either given suspended sentences or granted early release and are out of prison.
Four of the group were released in late April 2015.
Amanollah Mostaghim, 67, completed his early education in Shiraz and went to the United States for higher education; he holds a BSc degree in Civil engineering from Texas Tech University. He returned to Iran in 1980, and worked in the area of civil engineering in several provinces, before eventually settling in Shiraz. He is married with three children. He was arrested on 22 May 2011 and released on bail after 38 days. On 16 June 2012, he was summoned to court and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He was released on November 5, 2015 because of his dire health.
As of early November 2015, seven remain in prison. They are:
- Faran Hesami, 41, worked as a psychology instructor with BIHE and has also been involved in private practice. After completing their undergraduate education at BIHE, she and her husband – Kamran Rahimian – graduated in December 2003 with Master’s degrees in Educational Counseling from the University of Ottawa, Canada. Mrs. Hesami was summoned to court and arrested along with her husband on 13 September 2011. She was told that her Master’s degree is illegal and therefore her work as a counselor is also illegal. She was sentenced to four years in prison.
- Kamran Mortezaie, 63, holds a degree in electronic engineering from Aryamihr University – now the Sharif University of Technology – in Iran, as well as a postgraduate degree from George Washington University in the U.S.A. Having been denied the right to practice his profession for being a Baha’i, he worked in the building industry. He was a director of BIHE and a lecturer in computing. He was among 36 members of BIHE’s faculty and staff who were arrested during a series of raids carried out in 1998 by the Iranian authorities. He is the father of one child. He is serving a five year prison sentence.
- Foad Moghaddam, 66, has a degree in general medicine from the medical school of Tabriz. He practiced medicine for 33 years and has been involved with BIHE for 17 years. He is married and has three children. Dr. Moghaddam suffers heart problems. Dr. Moghaddam was arrested on 22 May 2011. On 25 June 2011 he was released on bail. On 16 June 2012, he was summoned to court and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He is now serving his sentence.
- Shahin Negari, 48, is a BIHE graduate in pharmaceutical science. He also received his M.SC in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is married and has two children. Until his arrest, Mr. Negari had worked in Tehran as a technical advisor, while being involved with the operation of BIHE. He was arrested on 22 May 2011 and was released on bail after a month. On 13 January 2013, Mr. Negari was taken into custody without prior notification. He is serving a four year sentence.
- Kamran Rahimian, 52, worked as a psychology instructor with BIHE, along with his wife, Faran Hesami. After completing his undergraduate education at BIHE, he graduated with Master’s degrees in Educational Counseling from the University of Ottawa, Canada in December 2003. He was summoned to court with his wife and two other Baha’is on 13 September 2011. The other two were released on bail soon afterwards. Mr. Rahimian was sentenced to four-years imprisonment and is serving his sentence at Gohardasht prison, some 50 kilometers west of Tehran.
- Kayvan Rahimian, 52, is a BIHE graduate in psychology and had been involved in private practice as a counselor. He also worked as a psychology instructor with BIHE. He was arrested on 14 September 2011 and was released on bail on 21 September 2011. Mr. Rahimian was told that his Master’s degree is illegal and therefore his work as a counselor is also illegal. He is the father of a 13-year old daughter and has recently lost his wife, Fereshteh Sobhani, to cancer. On 30 September 2012, Mr. Rahimian was summoned to begin his five years’ imprisonment sentence.
- Riaz Sobhani holds a post-graduate diploma certificate in building industry. He worked for BIHE as a building industry consultant and manager. Married with three children. Arrested on 14 June 2011, he appeared in court on 1 October 2011. He was given a four-year jail term.