Since 1979 the government of Iran has systematically persecuted members of the Baha’i community, the country’s largest religious minority.
This persecution escalated dramatically on 14 May 2008 when six Baha’i leaders were arbitrarily arrested and initially reported to be held in Evin Prison, in Tehran. After nearly two weeks since their arrest nothing has been heard from these men and women, generating growing concern about their condition.
This incident is all the more distressing when one recollects the harsh treatment of Baha’is in the early 1980s, when more than 200 Baha’is were killed and thousands of others imprisoned. The international outcry at the time – which included public statements by many Oxford dons – eventually subdued the overt actions of the Iranian government.
The executions stopped, but the persecution of the Baha’is has continued in the form of subtle policies to inhibit the progress of the community. They are barred from government jobs, denied many basic citizenship rights, and blocked from access to higher education.
Over the past year, many Oxford students have voiced their concern about the denial of higher education to thousands of our peers in Iran. Resolutions have been passed through JCRs, MCRs and the OUSU General Council.
We have asked our MPs to urgently call upon the Iranian government to comply with the international agreements it has signed, which uphold right of access to education regardless of religious affiliation. Members of this University have spoken out in support of the Baha’i students of Iran because we believe that the right to study should not be denied because of one’s religion.
We believe that a government that intentionally denies education to its people is capable of doing much worse, as recent events have shown. The May 14 arrests are the latest in a series of escalating actions targeting the Baha’i community. In 2006, 53 Baha’i youth were arrested in Shiraz while they were engaged in an educational project with underprivileged youth.
There has been a notable increase in reports of public harassment and ridicule of Baha’i children by their teachers. Most troubling of all, a government memo was recently leaked and revealed government instructions to security agencies to ‘identify’ and ‘monitor’ Baha’is around the country.
While the world is distracted by Iran’s nuclear posturing, government hardliners promote a coordinated and threatening agenda aimed at suffocating the Baha’i community. Iran’s actions to block an entire community from education indicate sinister intentions that should not be ignored.
Let Oxford make its position clear to Iran and to the world on this matter: access to higher education is a right that should be enjoyed on the basis of merit, not religion.