NEW YORK, 18 October 2011 — Seven Baha’i educators in Iran have each received four- or five-year prison sentences, according to reports received by the Baha’i International Community.
Verdicts against the seven were reportedly handed down by a judge at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
The educators have been detained for almost five months in connection with their involvement in an informal community initiative – known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – in which Baha’i professors, debarred by the Iranian government from practicing their professions, offer their services to teach young community members who are banned from university.
Two of the individuals, Vahid Mahmoudi and Kamran Mortezaie, were each sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Four year jail terms were given to BIHE lecturers Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam and Farhad Sedghi, consultant Riaz Sobhani, and helper Nooshin Khadem.
“It is not even clear at this stage what the exact charges were against these innocent souls, whose only desire was to serve young people who have been unjustly barred from higher education on purely religious grounds,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.
“What kind of society makes educating the young a punishable crime?” she said.
Two other Baha’is associated with BIHE – husband and wife Kamran Rahimian and Faran Hesami, both psychology instructors – are also still being held without charge.
The most recent attacks carried out against BIHE continue to provoke condemnation from governments, organizations, academics and young people throughout the world.
More than 70 academics in Australia, including University of Ballarat vice-chancellor, David Battersby, have signed an open letter protesting Iran’s educational discrimination against Baha’is and calling for the immediate release of the imprisoned educators.
On 10 October, 43 prominent philosophers and theologians in 16 countries signed a letter of protest. “To acquire knowledge and learning is the sacred and legal right of all; indeed, the state is obliged to provide it. In Iran, the government has done the opposite…” wrote the academics.
Two Nobel Peace Prize laureates – Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, and Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor – in another open letter, sharply criticized the Iranian government, comparing its actions to “the Dark Ages of Europe” or the “Spanish Inquisition.”
On 5 October, resuming a Canadian Senate debate about the Baha’is in Iran, Senator Hugh Segal described the suffering heaped on Baha’is as “systematic and brutal, especially when the Baha’i are known as a peaceful faith that embraces the sanctity of all religions.”
“The official Iranian oppression of Baha’i … is a clarion call to humanity and to free peoples and democracies everywhere to look directly at the harsh colors of the Iranian reality and not look away until the challenge is faced head on,” said Senator Segal.
Around 112 Baha’is are currently behind bars in Iran because of their religion. This includes the seven Baha’i leaders, serving 20-year jail terms on trumped-up charges. The cases of some 300 other Baha’is are still active with the Iranian authorities.