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Baha’i minority denied the right to learn in Iran

by Archives November 16, 2005

HAMILTON (CUP) — After the Holocaust we swore it would never happen again. The Rwandan genocide occurred and we blamed our ignorance on poor media coverage. And now the world is passively standing by as the Islamic Republic of Iran ruthlessly persecutes a religious minority solely because of their faith.

Iranian authorities have been responsible for active religious cleansing against the Baha’is in Iran since 1979. The Baha’i community, (300,000 in Iran-the country’s largest religious minority), advocates the oneness of humankind, the underlying unity of all world religions, and the elimination of prejudices.

“The hatred of the extremist Mullahs for the Baha’is is such that they…intend not only to eradicate the religion, but even to erase all traces of its existence in the country of its birth,” claimed a recent advertisement placed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States in The New York Times.

One form of this eradication that should resonate in the hearts of students on campuses everywhere is the Iranian government’s denial of higher education. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Baha’is have not been allowed to attend institutions of higher learning. The only basis for this outright rejection is religious discrimination.

The Iranian authorities told Baha’is they would be allowed to attend colleges and universities if they recanted their faith, and proclaimed themselves Muslim. Baha’is are forbidden by their religion to deny their faith, and furthermore, it is also exactly how the Iranian government wants the conversion to happen-willfully.

Regardless of religious principles, or government deception, this deprivation of education is an infringement of human rights. There should be no correlation between a person’s belief and their desire to gain knowledge. Exploitation such as this should provoke the attention and action of students and administrators everywhere.

When the Iranian government began to feel some heat from international human rights monitors in early 2004, they devised a scheme that appeared to give Baha’is an opportunity to apply to universities and colleges.

Baha’i students were told that they could write university entrance exams. They were also promised that there would not be a field asking students to declare their religion-and there was not. But when the test results were returned in August, all Baha’is who wrote the exam were categorized as Muslims. The 800 students who wrote the test refused to be called Muslim, and consequently were not allow to enroll.

What makes the situation even more appalling is the fact that Iran acknowledges the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. One of the focal points within these declarations is the Right to Education, which is designed to defend and promote all human rights through education.

Article three of the Iranian constitution states that the government has the duty of directing all of its resources to the following goals: “free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education.”

The Government of Iran has avoided this responsibility by reserving “the right not to apply any provisions or articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic laws and the international legislation in effect. A Baha’i’s beliefs is one of these incompatibilities.

This state of affairs should be a global concern because it is perhaps the only case where an entire group is systematically and intentionally denied the right to education. As university students, it is our responsibility to speak out; for this is not simply an injustice against a specific religious group, but an injustice to humanity as a whole.

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