Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Victims and Witnesses

Baha'i Student Banned from Studies/A Victim's Account

Hesam Misaghi / Interview and English translation by ABF
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
April 14, 2011

I sat the national university entrance examination in 2006 and was admitted into Sana'i University in Isfahan to do a bachelor's degree course in English Language. It was the first year that a group of Baha'i youths were admitted to university.

State of Higher Education for Baha'is

We have no problems from a legal perspective, for instance the Constitution. It is the government that must observe the laws that it has itself legislated. Article 13 of the Constitution only recognizes four religions. It does not recognize the Baha'i faith. But there are many such inconsistencies. There are other articles stipulating that all individuals are equal before the law.

The Baha'i community has set up a virtual university at which the Baha'is are receiving education. However, it offers an online degree, hence not recognized in Iran. In my opinion, in an educational system, students and lecturers must be able to have face-to-face meetings. Such a feature is not offered by a virtual university, which exists only to provide us with an opportunity to continue our education under the current circumstances. I cannot, therefore, say that such an education is the same as the education received by those who attend actual universities. It has many problems. There are not enough lecturers; or there are days, when the lecturer is present but the student cannot attend. There are no classes. They give us a series of subject headings and we do the studying ourselves. It is no education as such. It offers online classes. But they are very few and are not on a daily basis. If one has a question, it cannot be answered that same day as one does not have access to lecturers. You may or you may not be able to receive an answer to your question.

In 1998, they launched an extensive raid on a number of Baha'i virtual university centers. They attacked examination sessions and confiscated papers, or confronted the students. After several years, in March 2008, an institute was rented for six months to enable students to attend classes a few times a month. But they seized that building and banned it. They posted a notice on the Science Ministry website saying that an illegal academic center had been banned and shut down. They deemed the academic center illegal and closed it down.

I am studying sociology at the virtual university. I study and do my course work during the day. At the same time I go to a private institute where I study a subject which may help me find a job. My only hope of getting a job is in the private sector because the Baha'is face numerous restrictions in many areas of employment. According to the classified bill of 1990, to which reference is made, it has been clearly stated that the ruling system must take steps to block the Baha'i's progress and development. They have, in effect, blocked the Baha'is access in all spheres, be it in employment, education or any other area. There are private academic institutes for the Baha'i's, but for many the only solution is to leave Iran. This is my country. I do not wish to leave it. I am attached to and feel affection for it.

After 2004, the Baha'i's were able to sit the national university entrance exams for the first time. Before that time, there was a religious requirement for sitting the exam. From that time, the deprivations assumed various forms. There were [claims of] incomplete files; some achieved top results but were incredulously failed; some, such as I, were admitted to university but later expelled. There was, consequently, a great deal of correspondence.

In 2007, some 800 [Baha'i's] had "incomplete files." After sitting their entrance examination, instead of receiving their preliminary results, they would face claims of [having an] "incomplete file." The same happened in 2009. Mr Parham Aghdasi was admitted into Hamedan's Bou Ali Sina University, which is a reputable university, in 2006 to study atomic molecular physics. In January, before his end of term exams, he was told that he was no longer allowed to continue with his studies, and had been expelled because of his faith. Thenceforth, he was barred from entering the university. In September 2007, Mr Aghdasi was Baha'i students' representative at an Education Ministry conference, organized by the Center for Defenders of Human Rights. Subsequently, Keyhan newspaper wrote an article against him.

The authorities know the identity of the Baha'i students. All evidence points to the fact that our conversations and daily affairs in the Baha'i community are monitored; that we are under surveillance by the Intelligence Ministry, which is observing the lives and activities of every Baha'i. On the university registration form, I put a cross over the religion column. I did not write anything. The options given are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. There is no Baha'i option. I put a cross over it. Some forms offer options, while some require minute details. I made no reference to my religion. It's possible that they may investigate those who have put a cross there and find out. But those who believe in the Baha'i faith do not write anything else, such as Islam. They try to either leave it blank or, if compelled, state that they are Baha'i. It's not the case that they describe themselves as Muslims. It's all to do with the religious belief and the command of our prophet which was that we should not lie in that respect. So because of our belief we do not mention anything. We show resistance. We believe not mentioning anything is better and gladly face any danger.

I never claimed to be Muslim. Through my action, I can help the people in my society to accept that there can also be other creeds within society. In so doing, I attempt to prevent the establishment of a homogeneous society. Ideologically, I cannot accept that a government should forcefully make a uniform society. There must be plurality of beliefs. Through my insistence I try to make both the government and society to understand that. It would not be right if I accept out of fear and say "All right. Whatever you say is correct." That would curb my society's progress.

My Expulsion and Visits to Various Government Offices

In 2006, in addition to myself, there was one more Baha'i on my course, and another on a different course. After receiving my final results at the end of two terms and completion of all the course modules, I was summoned by the National Organization of Educational Testing [NOET], where they respectfully told me that they had "received a letter," and had to let us go. The names of three individuals were mentioned in that letter. I was expelled in July 2007. The three of us wrote a letter of protest. They responded, "We will provide you with a letter and you can refer to NOET yourselves and pursue your cases." We took the letter and went to NOET.

It was customary at the time, as it still is, that whenever we went to a ministry regarding this matter, they would say, "We don't know. We have no information." We went to NOET, where we were told to go to the Education Ministry. So we went to the Education Ministry, where they said, "It is not up to us. You must go to NOET." So our pursuit was to no avail and we received no responses to our communications. That is how they would absolve themselves of any blame; they would say, "You must appeal in writing," to which they would not respond.

The various sections of the Education Ministry would either say, "This is not related to us." Or many of them would say, "No MP has the right to interfere." Finally, the parliament representative of the Education Ministry, Mr Jamshidi, spoke with us and wrote a letter to the university asking the reason for our dismissal.

We also visited the Cultural Revolution Council with Navid Khanjani. It was the cold season. They kept us outside the gate for a few hours. They would not let us pass the security section. Finally, we managed to enter. They attributed the deprivations of the Baha'i's to the 1990 bill. Yet if you refer to the website of the Cultural Revolution Council and go through the bills that have been endorsed, you will realize that there is no sign of the said bill. However, in a classified letter sent to the university, this bill, the reference to which contains the letter M [Mahramaneh, which means confidential in Persian] has been invoked. It is legal to write a classified letter and enforce a classified law, yet others must not know about it.

We did not get anywhere at the Cultural Revolution Council either. We stood shivering outside the entrance gate from 8 am to 4 pm. When we realized it was to no avail, we left. However, we did return again and again. We went to the office of the Isfahan MP, Mohammad Taqi Rahbar. After calling at his office a few times, he agreed to put a note under the letter written by me Navid Khanjani asking them to tend to my case. Subsequently, we called at the parliamentary affairs section of the Education Ministry. Since we had a letter from an MP they agreed to write another letter to my university as well as to NOET, which had told me and Navid Khanjani that we had "incomplete files."

And so the correspondence continued. We followed up our case by returning to the office of Mohammad Taqi Rahbar to inform him that our correspondence had been in vain. At Rahbar's office, there was a man called Qandi. He constantly prevented us from having a one-to-one meeting with Mr Rahbar. He did so again. However, we caught sight of Mr Rahbar and sat in his office. Those present asked us why we were there. We explained. Suddenly Qandi entered the office and aggressively threw out everyone except us. He then proceeded to threaten us, saying, "If you come here again, I will teach you a lesson you will not forget!" We insisted on seeing Rahbar, thinking that being an MP he may be able to raise our issue at the Majles. But Qandi rang the police. We were four students who had been barred from education; Me, Navid Khajani, Armin Rahmani, and someone called Pezeshki. Two armed officers turned up. They pushed us into the room and after closing the doors and windows asked for our identification documents. There was a soldier who was pointing his gun at us. Mr Rahbar then entered the room from another door. After speaking with us, he said that he was unable to do anything and that we should leave his office.

But we did not give up. Mr Khanjani and I went to the parliamentary affairs section of the Education Ministry [in Tehran] on 16 December 2008 and told them that our letter had not been dealt with. A lady there brought out my case. I found a new letter in the file, which was my university's response to the parliament representative of the Education Ministry, Mr Jamshidi. The letter said that Mr Misaghi has been expelled from the university at the behest of the education and intelligence ministries' security sections owing to his Baha'i faith.

I asked the lady, if she could "please give me a copy of the letter." She was not aware that she should not give me a copy. I asked her for another copy and she gave me that too. We took one copy out of the Education Ministry and took the other to the security. We told them that "the letter says that you are responsible." Whenever we had visited there we were told, "It has nothing to do with us. It is not our fault." This time, a person called Reza'ian looked at the letter. Then he punched the desk and said, "Who gave you this letter?" Then he took us to the parliamentary affairs office and went to the lady who had provided us with the letter. He shut the door and had words with her. Then he asked us how many copies of the letter we had. We did not say anything. He said, "This lady says you have two copies." We replied, "Yes. We have two." He said, "Where is the other copy?" We replied, "We will not tell. We need it." Then he took us upstairs to the security section of the Education Ministry. First he started making threatening and vulgar remarks, such as "Wipe that damn smirk off your face," and other words that I do not wish to repeat. Once we went outside his tone changed. He said in a conciliatory tone, "You must give us the letter. Either give it to me or I will have to search you. If I do not find the letter, you will be imprisoned for six months to two years. The Intelligence Ministry will take you away because you have stolen a state document." They accused us of theft. We refused to hand over the letter.

Then they brought in some officers. They did not search us. They just stood there. The gentleman himself searched us. There were several letters in my briefcase; letters that we had sent to the NOET and Education Ministry. They were in fact our administrative correspondence. He took them out and slammed them on the desk, saying, "You are the head of the office for defending the Baha'is. You seem to have more letters than I do." They were letter I had written to the Education Ministry in order to enlighten them. He said, "You have samizdats too! These are all criminal charges against you. I will keep them for now and you will also remain here." He placed a thick file before me and said, "These are some of your letters with which I do not know what to do." He kept us there but the letter was not found.

They took us to a room behind the Education Ministry's security section. It seemed that the room was allocated to that purpose. They proceeded to interrogate us. There was a table. We sat behind the table. They interrogated us, asking a variety of questions, such as, "Where is the letter? What do you do?" We had various arguments. After an hour, they took Navid out of the room and began threatening me, saying, "The letter belongs to you. Navid will betray you. You don't know but we have released him. He can come and go freely and you are the one who will be stuck here and go to prison. Tomorrow your parents will be here begging us. They will subject you to unimaginable torture; psychological torture." They pointed to a handkerchief on the table and said, "After we are through with you, you will be describing this handkerchief as a banana." They told me that the Intelligence Ministry officials would be there in an hour.

We had arrived in Tehran from Isfahan the night before. I had not gone to the lavatory for a few hours. They would not allow me to go. They kept asking for the letter, saying, "The letter would be of no use to you." I would respond, "If it is of no use, why are you detaining us?" They responded, "The letter must not leave this place." They kept repeating, "You must give us the letter. That letter is confidential." But there was no letter M [for confidential] on top of the letter to indicate that. It was an administrative letter. But for some reason, they did not want the letter to come out. Reza'ian said, "This is a liability for me. You have stolen that letter." He added, "I will leave you alone for an hour to see if you will still have the smirk on your face."

He left. An hour later, another person arrived and asked the same questions. After some eight hours, they said, "We will release you. You will have no more problems." They returned our cell phones, but asked for our cell phone pin numbers. They noted them and extracted the information stored inside them. They took the list of our contacts in the cell phone. They said, "So far it was in our hands. If the letter is publicized once you leave this place, you will be held responsible. The Intelligence Ministry will come after you." To cut a long story short, after several threats, they said, "You will have the Intelligence Ministry to deal with if the letter is publicized." Reza'ian brought a piece of paper and said, "Write down that you will not use this letter once you are out." I said, "No. I cannot write this." He said, "Write. Haj Aqa has promised that just you will be allowed to return to university." I responded, "No. I don't want to be the only one going to university. I want everyone to go. In other words, the law must be amended." I did not make any pledges that I would not publicize that.

I have kept the letter. I said, "I will publish this letter if anything happens to us." After that day (17 December), I did not return to the Education Ministry. But I remained active with other individuals in the Committee on the Right to Education of Human Rights Activists.

After my expulsion, I wrote many letters; to the Education Ministry, NOET, Presidential Office, Leader's Office and the Court of Administrative Justice. Subsequently, a bill was endorsed based on which it was no longer possible to file complaints against the Cultural Revolution Council. As a result, we could not take our complaint to the Court of Administrative Justice. I was not the only one who was engaged in such correspondence. There were many students.

Expulsion of Other Baha'is

Armin Rahmani also had an "incomplete file." He happened to be with us on 17 December. I do not have the exact number of the expelled Baha'i students. Many passed the university entrance exams but were found to have "incomplete files." The Baha'is have to refer to many organizations.

We continue to pursue our case, in the form of civil actions: correspondence, taking our grievances to MPs, the Education Ministry and other organs. When the national university entrance exams results of 1 August 2009 came out, they included the grades of many Baha'is. But, again, many of them faced the claims of "incomplete files." Those [Baha'is] who are currently university students, do not have any academic security. This is a process that the Baha'i's experience from primary school. They know that once they approach the end of their high school, they will not be admitted to university. Consequently, they experience psychological problems. They are in a state of limbo, thinking, "What will happen once we sit the national university entrance exam? Will they admit us to university?"

There were also some who were accepted by the distance education Payam-e Noor University, but later expelled. They include Afrouz Mirza'i. He passed the exam for Payam-e Noor but they refused to admit him or allow him to matriculate.

Holakou Rahmanian was studying for the national university entrance exams in 2006-2007. He tried very hard to be allowed to sit the exam. He sat the exam in 2007 and came 54th regionally and 76th nationally in Mathematical Physics. He entered for 26 different subjects. But, incredulously, received a message that he had failed. He paid many visits to the Education Ministry and NOET, where he was told, "You cannot continue with your education because you are a Baha'i."

Sima Haqiqat is another example. Born in 1962, after some 24 years of academic deprivation, she finally sat her national university entrance exams in 2004, when the Baha'is were allowed to sit the exam. In the preliminary results, she came first nationwide in the subject of linguistics; eighth in human sciences - in other words she achieved two of the highest grades after 24 years of academic deprivation. However, after selecting her subject, she was also declared unsuccessful.

There were three who were studying engineering at the Sahand University of Tabriz. They were expelled in March 2009. Ms Mona Mohebbati was admitted into Shahid Reza'i University of Kermanshah in 2006. After two of her friends were expelled, she did not know whether or not she would be next. She did not know whether or not to continue her education. She continued for two years. She had completed three terms and started her fourth, when she was expelled. This state of limbo experienced by the students is a real problem. Minoo Shahriari was studying Economics at Semnan [University]. She was expelled on 26 February 2009. Khavan Yaqma was studying Mathematics at Mazandaran when he was expelled. And there were many more.

I repeat the names of many expelled Baha'i students: Parham Aghdasi, Holakou Rahmanian, Sima Haqiqat, Sama Noorani, Sina Dana, Mona [Sharifi] Mohebbati, Faran Khavan Yaqma, Minoo Shahriari.

I have hope in the future. I do not like to go forward in despair, although the situation is not too good at the moment and many Baha'i students are barred from education. Whoever I speak to has experienced a problem of some sort or is being deprived. In my opinion, it is public opinion that forces governments to respect their own legal norms. And that is our most significant sphere of activity; to raise public awareness. Through our civil actions, we must make the public understand and accept that they can coexist in a society where there are different opinions, and abandon the one-dimensional or, in effect, linear thinking. It is no longer the case that those in our age group are opposed to us. Today's generation does not accept that the Baha'is must be deprived of education. The events that take place serve to demonstrate that fundamental and traditional thinking is not longer accepted by everyone. That in itself is a source of hope. It is public opinion that determines a government's level of commitment to the country's laws.