Confidential Iran memo exposes policy to deny Baha'i students university education

NEW YORK — The Bahá’í International Community has obtained a copy of a confidential 2006 letter written by Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology instructing Iranian universities to expel any student who is discovered to be a Bahá’í.

The letter refutes recent statements by Iranian officials, who say Bahá’í students in Iran face no discrimination — despite the fact that at least 128 of the 200 Bahá’í university students enrolled last autumn were expelled over the course of the 2006-2007 academic year.

“This latest document proves unequivocally that Iranian authorities remain intent on utterly blocking the development of Iranian Bahá’ís, despite what they say to the outside world,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations.

“The letter exposes a duplicitous campaign by Iran to pretend that it does not violate the internationally recognized right to education while, in fact, the government is actually continuing to implement its secret, long-term plan to prevent Bahá’í students from obtaining a university education.

“Not only Bahá’ís, but also others — students expelled under directives that target them on absolutely baseless grounds; women whose human rights are grossly violated through the enactment or perpetuation of discriminatory laws; and other victims of injustice in that land — need international defense,” she added.

The 2006 letter is from the Central Security Office of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT) and was issued by its director general, Asghar Zarei, to 81 universities around the country. Stamped “confidential,” the exact date of the letter is undecipherable, although its contents are legible.

“[I]f the identity of Bahá’í individuals becomes known at the time of enrollment or during the course of their studies, they must be expelled from university,” states the letter, which was signed by Mr. Zarei. The Ministry of Science, Research and Technology oversees all state-run universities.

The directive flatly contradicts public and private statements of Iranian government officials. In early March, for example, the Reuters news agency carried a story about Iran’s treatment of Bahá’í students and it quoted an anonymous spokesperson for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations saying: “No one in Iran because of their religion has been expelled from studying.”

Last year, as well, deceitful statements by Iranian officials came to light when Clare Short, a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, received a communication from Hamid Reza Arefi, the charge d’affaires of the Iranian Embassy in London. “In Iran, no individual is excluded from higher education solely because of his/her ideology.”

“Although Bahaism [sic] is not recognized as an official religion but by law Bahá’ís are entitled to equal rights,” wrote Mr. Arefi in an 8 June 2006 letter to Ms. Short.

The 2006 letter from the MSRT’s Central Security Office also makes a clear reference to the secret 1991 Golpaygani memorandum about Bahá’ís, which was released to the public in 1993 by a United Nations official.

Despite Mr. Arefi’s assurances that Iranian Bahá’ís are legally entitled to equal rights, other voices state that the Golpaygani memorandum takes precedence.

That 1991 memorandum outlined a comprehensive plan to “block” the development and progress of the Iranian Bahá’í community. The 1991 memorandum states for example that Bahá’ís shall be denied “any position of influence” and that “employment shall be refused to persons identifying themselves as Bahá’ís.”

The 1991 memorandum states clearly that Bahá’ís “must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Bahá’ís.”

Signed by Hujjatu’l Islam Seyyed Mohammad Golpaygani, secretary of the Iran Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, the 1991 memorandum was approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As such, it reflects the highest policy of the government.

An English translation of the letter can be read at: