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.
Reported from Baha’i International Community
UNITED NATIONS—4 November 2015—Growing up in Iran, Naeim Tavakkoli recalls being forced to sit on the floor in school to dry out on rainy days so that the “unclean” water he shed as a Baha’i would not be passed on to Muslim students.
Unfortunately, such discrimination and persecution continues today in Iran, said Mr. Tavakkoli during testimony at the United Nations on Wednesday 4 November 2015.
Mr. Tavakkoli – along with two other Iranian Baha’is and three Iranian Christians – spoke at a side event sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada, the Baha’i International Community, and the European Centre for Law and Justice. The event focused on what day-to-day life is for religious minorities in Iran, and can be viewed on the web here (link is external).
For example, Mr. Tavakkoli said his father is currently serving a 20-year sentence for activities stemming solely from his religious belief, as are six other members of an ad hoc Baha’i leadership group who were arrested in 2008. Moreover, Baha’is are deprived of access to higher education, face the continual threat of arrest, and experience economic persecution, said Mr. Tavakkoli, an engineer who currently lives in Canada.
Niknaz Aftahi, a young Iranian Baha’i, spoke about the impact of Iran’s ban on higher education for Baha’is: “For a young person, you plan your entire future based on higher education and when the government takes it away from you, they are taking away your entire future.”
Like thousands of other young Baha’is, Ms. Aftahi made do by enrolling in the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an informal, community-based initiative that seeks to provide a college-level education to those who are otherwise denied one. She is now living in the United States.
“As much as I am happy and grateful to live and work in the US, I would love to go back to Iran and contribute to the welfare, economy and future of Iran,” said Ms. Aftahi. “This is my highest desire.”
Kambiz Saghaey, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, said he was imprisoned for operating a “house church,” describing how more than 20 government agents raided a 2009 Christmas prayer meeting, arresting him and another pastor.
“They searched my home and took everything I had on paper, from mail, my marriage certificate, and books,” said Mr. Sahgaey. “At midnight, they put me in a cell in Rajai Shahr Prison and for 21 days, my family didn’t know where I was, whether I was alive or not.”
The event was moderated by Iranian-American journalist Lisa Daftari, who has reported on the plight of religious minorities in Iran. She noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised to pursue a human rights agenda during his election campaign in 2013, saying “All religions, all minorities, even religious minorities, must feel justice.”
“The reality on the ground tells a different story,” said Ms. Daftari.
Siovash Khanjani, an Iranian Baha’i now living in Canada, told of government efforts to suppress the economic livelihood of his extended family by closing the shops, factories and farms they owned and operated. The Khanjani family farm once produced more than 300 tons of apples and almonds until it was demolished by the government this year.
“One wonders what national interest is served in the destruction of so vast a farmland, and the destruction of 300 tons of fruit when Iran imports food from other countries,” said Mr. Khanjani.
He said it is explicit national policy to persecute Baha’is, outlined, for example, in a once-secret 1991 memorandum that was signed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He read from the memorandum, reproduced in a new report from the Baha’i International Community, which was also presented at the side event.
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of jailed Iranian Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, shared via video how her husband was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for converting from Islam to Christianity.
“He was held in solitary confinement in Evin prison and beaten and told to deny his Christian faith,” said Mrs. Abedini. “My husband just chose to believe differently than what the Iranian government believes.
“I ask you to help our family and the many families that are suffering in Iran and to fight for religious freedom,” said Mrs. Abedini, addressing the international community.
This year, for the first time in the history of the Baha’i Era, the Anniversaries of the Birth of the Bab and the Birth of Baha’u’llah – also known as the Twin Holy Birthdays – will be celebrated consecutively from sunset Nov. 12 through sunset Nov. 14 by Baha’is all over the world. River Parishes residents are invited join River Parishes Baha’is as they celebrate these Twin Holy Days:
Thursday Nov. 12: Birth of Bab Celebration with buffet dinner, fellowship and prayers 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hibachi Supreme Buffet at 1721 Airline Hwy (near corner Hemlock) in the party room. The buffet price is $10.99 per teen/adult; $4.99 for children ages 3-5; $6.99 children ages 6-10. Children 2 and younger are free. RSVP with Diane at 504.559.2682.
Friday Nov. 13: Celebration of the Birth of Baha’u’llah beginning 6:30 p.m. at the home of Dr Bijan and Dory Motaghedis’ home in Destrehan. Dinner, program, and refreshments are offered. Please RSVP to 985.764.2542 by Nov. 11.
Saturday Nov. 14: Twin Holy Days Prayer brunch and fellowship at Greenwood Park gazebo from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. in LaPlace. For more information, call or text 504.559.2682.
The « Festivals of the Twin Birthdays » or the « Twin Holy Birthdays » refers to two successive holy days in the Bahá’í calendar, that celebrate the birth of two central figures of the Bahá’í Faith.
The Baha’i Faith has two Founders – the Bab and Baha’u’llah — whose missions complement each other, whose majestic Shrines now stand in the twin cities of Haifa and Akka in northern Israel, and whose birthdays according to the Islamic lunar calendar fell on consecutive days. This is also significant as the bicentennial years of the birth of Baha’u’llah and the Bab are coming up soon, and now the entire community will be able to celebrate these historic occasions as one on the same days. Up until now, Baha’is have observed certain holy days according to the Gregorian solar calendar for communities in the West, and the Islamic lunar calendar for communities in the Middle East.
In honor of this historic occasion, the Universal House of Justice for the worldwide Baha’i community released three newly translated Tablets: one celebrates the Birth of the Bab, and two are dedicated to the Birth of Baha’u’llah. These tablets, all penned by Baha’u’llah, will be included in a volume called Days of Remembrance which will be available later next year.
A report released this month on “The Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” reveals that Iranians are worse off under “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani than his more conservative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that, based on their current trajectory, they are expected to exceed well over 1,000 executions by year’s end.
“The human rights situation in the country remains dire,” Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur on Iran, said during a briefing at the United Nations last week.
Iran executes more individuals per capita than any other country in the world. In his 26-page report, Shaheed notes that between January 1 and September 15 of this year, Iran executed at least 694 people by hanging, which included at least 10 women and one juvenile. In 2014, Iran clocked in at a shocking 753 executions.
Shaheed’s analysis also found that “more than 480 persons were flogged during the first 15 days of Ramadan for not fasting,” but that the Iranian regime has falsely maintained that only three individuals were subject to this punishment for their non-observance of the fast. Additionally, two people who were convicted of theft had their limbs amputated mere weeks prior to the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) in July.
A man identified as “Hamid S.” reportedly had his left eye and right ear surgically removed in January of this year after being found guilty of attacking another man with acid in 2005, which caused the victim to lose the same body parts. Another man was also forcibly blinded in March of this year in a process known as qisas, or “retribution-in-kind,” for throwing acid on another man in 2009.
Read more here
According to BahaiNews, two baha’i prisoners, Hassan Bazrafkan and Vahid Taghvajou were released from Marvdasht prison in Shiraz at the end of their sentence. They have been in jail for one-year.
On September 11, 2013, security forces searched their home and seized computers and books relating to the Bahai Faith. They detained these two men as well as five others, who were released soon after.