IRAN: Attacks against Bahá’í school children

[3 April 2008] -This is a document that was recently sent to several UN Special Procedures, concerning denial of access to education for Bahá'í children in Iran. This document details cases involving expulsions from school, intimidation, harassment, surreptitious identification and monitoring that target pupils who are members of this religious minority.

Even very young children are affected – at least three Bahá’í children were expelled from kindergarten in Yazd and Isfahan because their religion had been identified.

Many Bahá’ís have been refused enrolment in local schools during the current school year, and reports from different regions indicate widespread patterns of abuse:

  • Many teachers and school administrators have subjected Bahá'í school children to vilification, and dozens of Bahá’í pupils have been forced to listen in class to false, vile, outrageous tales about the teachings of their Faith and the moral behaviour of its adherents.
  • Many pupils have been expelled after having: identified themselves as members of the community; tried to defend their Faith against unfounded accusations; or respectfully attempted to correct gross misrepresentations of their religion’s history published in the textbooks they must study.
  • Attacks, insults and ridicule have also come from classmates whose views were obviously shaped by falsehoods that officials, clergy and government-controlled media have been purveying throughout the country.

Iranian Bahá'ís have been informed that they are free to put two dashes in the space for religion on registration or enrolment forms they must complete. Accepting this approach may reduce the number of Bahá’ís who are disqualified from enrolment at the beginning of the year (although it remains to be seen whether subsequent measures would then target those who put dashes in the space for religion).

In any case, Bahá’í students who speak out in class to defend their Faith remain vulnerable to expulsion, not only on the grounds of having insulted Islam or undermined its teachings but also because they thereby make it known that they are Bahá’ís. It is clear that the underlying policy being applied is the one set down in the government memorandum obtained and published in 1993 by the former UN Special Representative, which stipulates that Bahá’ís “can be enrolled in schools provided they have not identified themselves as Bahá’ís”.

In contrast, there have been reports of fellow students, teachers and administrators, as well as some government officials, who have expressed sympathy for the Bahá’í students. Unfortunately, all too often, sympathetic officials indicate with regret that they are powerless to do anything but commiserate, as they are bound by directives from their superiors or from senior agencies of the government.

All religious minorities affected

The parents of a Bahá’í student were told by a sympathetic school administrator that all school principals in Marvdasht had received verbal instructions to give students of “the Bahaist sect” and other religious minorities at most only a passing grade in their school examinations – regardless of their actual level of performance. It seems likely that this new directive has been verbally transmitted to school administrators in other localities, as well.

This has come to light at the same time as the government’s plan to eliminate the national university entrance examination as of academic year 2010–2011. As reported on BBC’s Persian-language newscast on 10 November 2007, the new plan would establish high school performance as the only criterion for eligibility to university. Access to higher education is highly competitive in Iran, so any student with merely passing grades in school exams would have no hope of being accepted.

There has been a great deal of pressure from UN bodies and other actors in the international community about Iranian government policies that deny access to university for Bahá'í students. With this new tactic, the authorities apparently intend to ensure that they can no longer be taken to account for their discriminatory policy – by pretending that members of religious minorities simply do not get good enough grades to continue their studies.



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