Human Rights

In Iran, more arrests and another year without college for Baha'i youth

NEW YORK — Persecution against the Bahá'ís of Iran has continued to escalate in recent months, with fresh arrests in July, August, and September, and the arrival of another school year in which Bahá'í students are denied access to university.

Some 23 Bahá'ís have been arrested since the end of June, bringing to 53 the total number of Bahá'ís detained in Iran from January through September 2005. All were held on charges solely related to their religious beliefs.

As well, hundreds of Bahá'í youth were again denied access to higher education this year when the Iranian government issued university entrance examination results that falsely indicated they were Muslims, a move the government first tried last year in a ploy aimed at placating human rights monitors while still keeping Bahá'ís out of college.

“Between the rising tide of arbitrary arrests and imprisonments and the continued subterfuge that prevents Bahá'í youth from obtaining a college or university education, it is clear that Iran 's treatment of its Bahá'í minority continues to worsen,” said Bani Dugal , the principal representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations.

“We believe the degree of religious freedom granted to Bahá'ís in Iran remains the litmus test by which the Islamic Republic of Iran should be judged as the world looks for signs of its willingness to behave as a responsible member of the international community of nations,” said Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal said Bahá'ís were arrested in July, August and September in a number of cities across Iran, including Mashhad, Karaj, Sari, Ghaem Shahr, and Babol Sar. Earlier in the year, Bahá'ís were arrested in Tehran , Kata, Semnan, and Shiraz.

“The pattern of arrests is widespread, clearly indicating the systematic nature of the persecution and the involvement of the national government,” said Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal said the pattern of arrests and detentions has also been carried out without concern for due process. She noted, for example, that on 5 September a court in Karaj sentenced four Bahá'ís to ten months' imprisonment on the basis of a verbal indictment. “Those four, who had been released on bail on 15 August after business licenses had been posted as collateral, asked for a written document stating the charges against them, but the court refused to issue one,” said Ms. Dugal.

As well, Bahá'í homes continue to be searched, and documents and possessions seized, said Ms. Dugal.

The continuing effort to keep Bahá'ís out of colleges and universities is in keeping with a policy established in the late 1980s.

As last year, the government used a cruel ploy to continue to deny Bahá'ís access to higher education. Under pressure from the international community to allow Bahá'ís to return to university, the government in 2004 and again this year allowed Bahá'ís to take national entrance examinations.

However, as with last year, when examination results were returned in August, the government had printed the word Islam in the field indicating the test-taker's religion. Bahá'ís have long made it clear that as a matter of principle they will not falsely say that they are Muslims — or allow themselves to be falsely listed as Muslims.

This year, as well, Bahá'í students approached the government and sought to have the error corrected. And again, they were rebuffed — and so as a matter of principle have refused to enroll.

“Given the government's stated policy of seeking to block the ‘progress and development' of the Bahá'í community, as outlined in a 1991 government memorandum, this latest episode is clearly aimed at keeping Bahá'ís out of college while placating human rights monitors,” said Ms. Dugal.

“We have information that at least 200 Bahá'í students this year — and probably more — passed the examination and thus qualified for entrance into college,” said Ms. Dugal. “But because the government continues to play games over the very fundamental right to religious belief, these young people are denied access to higher education.”