GENEVA — A coordinated series of raids have been carried out on the homes of several Iranian Baha’is, active in a community initiative to provide a higher education programme for young members who are barred from university.
Reports indicate that raids took place on Saturday 21 May on as many as 30 homes in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz. It is now understood that some 14 Baha’is have been arrested.
“All of the targets were homes of individuals closely involved with the operations of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was established in 1987 as a community initiative to meet the educational needs of young Baha’is who have been systematically denied access to higher education by the Iranian government. The BIHE has been described by the New York Times as “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation.”
“The Institute has been a remarkably creative – and entirely non-violent – response to the Iranian government’s on-going effort to stifle the normal human development of the Baha’i community,” said Ms. Ala’i.
“The Iranian authorities – not content with debarring Baha’is from university solely on account of their religious beliefs – are now cruelly seeking to shut down the community’s efforts to provide its youth with higher education through alternative means.
“The government’s actions are utterly unjustifiable,” said Ms. Ala’i.
This is not the first time that the BIHE has come under attack from Iranian authorities. One of the biggest blows was a series of sweeping raids carried out in 1998 during which some 36 members of the BIHE’s faculty and staff were arrested, and much of its equipment and records – located in more than 500 homes – was taken. Other actions against the operations of BIHE were carried out in 2001 and 2002.
These attacks – and Iran’s general policy prohibiting young Baha’is from entering higher education – have been met with strong condemnation by governments, academics, UN agencies, civil society organizations and others.
Among the numerous actions taken, university professors and chaplains around the world have sent letters of protest to the UN Secretary-General and the leaders of Iran; in 2006, the president of Princeton university in the United States raised the matter with the Iranian representative to the UN; Spain’s House of Deputies has passed a strongly-worded resolution on the situation; Wolfson College, Oxford, also voted through a resolution in November 2007, as did the University of Winnipeg in Canada.
“These latest raids appear to be another concerted attempt to attack the BIHE, which the authorities have long sought to do,” said Diane Ala’i.
“We are calling upon governments and educational organizations throughout the world to register with the government of Iran their strong disapproval of its systematic, ongoing efforts to deny to young Baha’is their fundamental human right to access higher education.”
(Article updated 23 May 2011. The second and third sentences originally read, “Initial reports indicate that raids took place yesterday on houses in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz. As many as 30 people may already have been arrested.”)
Reprinted with permission from the Bahá’í World News Service.