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Education as ‘conspiracy against national security’?

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Charges have been brought against 11 of the Bahá’ís who were arrested this spring in raids connected to the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), the Bahá’í International Community learned late in July.

The charges include “conspiracy against national security by establishing the illegal Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education” and “conspiracy against the Islamic Republic of Iran by establishing the illegal Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education.”

Those 11 were among 19 people arrested in raids conducted May 21 on more than 30 Bahá’í homes connected to BIHE, a program that was initiated after young Bahá’ís began to be systematically denied access to universities in the wake of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Eight of the arrestees were released in the two months following the raids. Under Iranian law, the authorities had to either formally charge the rest of the detainees or set them free.

Ominous parallels with earlier case

Kenneth Bowers, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, expressed concern over the parallels in the BIHE case to the circumstances surrounding the imprisonment of the seven Bahá’í leaders arrested in 2008 and currently serving a 20-year sentence.

“The seven individuals were held for almost two years under the original writ for their detention,” Bowers said, “when, under Iranian law, they should have been released within two months, as the court had not brought forward any evidence to justify their continued imprisonment.”

When attorneys for the defendants objected to this illegal detention, the court then manufactured new charges against them to justify keeping them in custody.

“Understandably, the families of the 11 prisoners arrested on May 21 are deeply concerned that their loved ones could face similarly long detentions,” Bowers added.

The government of Iran leaves no recourse for Bahá’ís, Bowers said, as it both refuses to admit Bahá’í young people to higher education and at the same time declares illegal the Bahá’í community’s peaceful initiative to provide a solution to a need that has been created by the government’s own actions.

“The only motivation for the Iranian government to now attack BIHE,” Bowers said, “is clearly a determination to impoverish the Bahá’í community and to drive Bahá’í youth out of their homeland merely for daring to pursue their dreams of furthering their education so as to equip themselves to be productive members of their society.”

Need for continued international spotlight on Iran

Anthony Vance, the National Assembly’s director of external affairs, suspects the Iranian government saw an opportunity to intensify its persecution against the Bahá’í community as recent events in surrounding countries deflected international attention.

“During the past six months,” Vance said, “the 20-year sentence against the leadership group was reinstated, these coordinated raids took place to shut down ad-hoc attempts to provide higher education to young people, and the number of Bahá’ís in prison has nearly doubled.”

Vance pointed to international attention as a key factor in checking the actions of the Iranian government against the Bahá’í community (see links on this page under “Updates on the global outcry”).

“We are grateful for the long-standing support of the U.S. government,” Vance said. “We hope that whatever action is deemed possible may be taken to urge Iran to immediately release these innocent prisoners.”

He added that the rise in the number of Bahá’ís behind bars, from 56 in mid-January to more than 100 as of early August, doesn’t reflect the revolving-door arrest-and-release tactic also used by Iranian authorities to terrorize the Bahá’ís. Often authorities demand exorbitant bail—for which Bahá’ís sometimes have to sign over their property deeds—as a method of impoverishing the Bahá’í community.

Links to related stories:
Recent actions by the U.S. government and national media to increase pressure on Iran

Updates on the global outrcy