Scientists add voices to rising support for Baha’i educators

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A committee concerned with human rights for scientists across the globe has joined the call to free the Bahá’í educators incarcerated in Iran — one of several developments related to ongoing efforts to open up educational access for Bahá’ís in the country of the Faith’s birth.

Meanwhile, a leading project in those efforts, Education Under Fire, needed fewer than 5,000 signatures for its Drive to 25 as of early April. The goal of that drive is to inspire 25,000 people to petition the Iranian government to end the persecution of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), as well as release the jailed educators and their lawyer. You can add your name to the list online (go to www.educationunderfire.com/25).

And the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its annual report released this March, urged the U.S. government to place sanctions on Iranian officials identified as being responsible for these and other religious freedom violations.

These developments, coming close to a year after the May 2011 raids in four Iranian cities that led to the arrests of the jailed educators, show growth in public support for human rights for Bahá’ís and others in Iran who are being denied educational opportunities because of their religion.

“On the margins of society”

BIHE, the target of those raids, was created to give Bahá’í students in Iran a chance to further their studies, because the government prevents them from attending colleges and universities due to their religious beliefs.

The letter from the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, sent in late February to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, calling for the country to “immediately and unconditionally release” all prisoners associated with BIHE.

“We urge the Iranian government to reconsider its policy and realize that barring a group of Iranians from education and economic advancement will ultimately be to the detriment of Iran’s economy and progress for all its citizens,” the letter to Iran’s supreme leader stated.

The prisoners are not political or religious leaders, the letter added. They were lecturers in accounting and dentistry, among other subjects.

“This policy of excluding the largest religious minority in Iran places the Bahá’ís on the margins of society,” the letter states.

The nine-member committee that wrote the Feb. 29 letter is part of the American Physical Society, a nonprofit organization representing physicists, headquartered in College Park, Maryland.

Others who have condemned the Iranian government in past months for putting the Bahá’í educators in prison include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and José Ramos-Horta.

Details on 2011 raids

The annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom gave details on the May 2011 raids. Authorities arrested about 18 Bahá’ís and confiscated books, documents and computers, the commission reported. Many were released after days or weeks in jail, but in October seven Bahá’ís were found guilty of “membership in a deviant sect with the goal of taking action against the security of the country,” according to the report.

Kamran Mortezaie, a lecturer, and Vahid Mahmoudi, a director of BIHE, were sentenced to five years in prison. Mahmoud Badavam, Noushin Khadem, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani and Ramin Zibaie — along with psychology teachers Faran Hesami and her husband, Kamran Rahimian — were given four-year jail terms. Prominent human rights attorney Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested in September 2011 because he was preparing to defend the Bahá’í educators. This January, Mahmoudi was freed after his sentence was reportedly suspended.

Family members of the imprisoned Bahá’í educators briefed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in February in Washington, DC.

The commission’s annual report recommended the U.S. government continue to identify Iranian officials who are responsible for the religious freedom violations and sanction them with asset freezes and travel bans. The commission also urged the U.S. to continue to speak out about the abuses and work with allies in Europe and elsewhere to also sanction the officials.

New stories on Web video

The Education Under Fire project (EUF)  continues to do its part in raising public awareness, as showings of the 30-minute documentary film Education Under Fire have been springboards for discussion on dozens of campuses across the country.

As the Drive to 25 progresses, EUF has also continued to post new short video documentaries as part of the “Angels of Iran” series, highlighting stories of people who have faced persecution in Iran for religious, cultural or political reasons.

“No Regrets” is political activist Jafar Yaghoobi’s first-person account of his four and a half years in prison. He missed his daughter growing up, but, as he states, “I have no regret of being a political activist, sacrificing for freedom and for democracy in Iran.”

In “A Father’s Voice,” Soheila Afnani talks about her father Nusratullah Subhani, a local Bahá’í leader who was executed March 5, 1985. The day before he was killed, Subhani wrote to his wife and daughter, “I only wish that all of you become inspired and successful in the pathway of truth and truthfulness. May my life be sacrificed to you all.”

More of these videos can be found on the EUF website (http://educationunderfire.com/angels-of-iran).