Bahai News - UF's Baha'i Unity Club to discuss injustice in Iran
UF's Baha'i Unity Club to discuss injustice in Iran
By L. Tracey Kabali
For followers of the Baha'i faith, the belief that everyone is "entitled
to a sound, basic education" is more than a religious tenet - it is
something Baha'is are willing to die for.
But the Iranian government threatened that tenet in October when it
closed the Baha'i Institute of Higher Learning, also known as the Open
The action has prompted members of UF's Baha'i Unity club, who said they
are outraged and saddened by the Iranian government, to hold a panel
discussion tonight at 7:30 at the Civic Media Center.
"The school was not hurting the government in any way," said Shaheen
Moajer, an anthropology senior and UF Baha'i Unity club member who
compared the university's plight to that of blacks in South Africa
during apartheid. "This is a brutal approach to oppression and a
violation of human rights. It's saddening and scary that the world is
letting this happen."
Two months ago, the Iranian government raided more than 500 homes,
destroying personal property and any materials associated with the
Thirty-six professors were jailed - most were released - and two others
were executed for teaching courses in calculus, physics, literature and
Started largely as a correspondence school, the Open University offers
credit through established colleges in the United States and Europe.
In time, course offerings were developed internally, and the Open
University offered bachelor's degrees in 10 subjects.
"The purpose (for the school) was for the students to get the
knowledge," said Farhad Seysan, a UF civil engineering senior and an
Iranian native who attended the Open University before his escape from
Iran in 1993.
After the revolution in 1979, the Iranian government outlawed the Baha'i
faith, making it a crime punishable by imprisonment and - many times -
Since 1980, more than 200 members of the Baha'i faith have been executed
and thousands more imprisoned, according to the National Baha'i
Information Center in Illinois.
"They discovered just killing us is not working," said Seysan. "They
want to keep Baha'is down by limiting education."
Following the revolution, Iranian officials barred admission to students
and fired professors of the Baha'i faith within the government's
Facing the reality of future uneducated generations, the Open University
was established in 1987.
"It seems like an injustice," said Larry Schwandes, a staff biologist in
UF's Soil and Water Science Department and a member of the Baha'i faith.
"Since they couldn't attend regular school ... they tried obeying the
law by not sending their kids to school. They should have a right to
teach their kids in their own homes."
The Open University's mission is purely academic, and no religious
classes are taught.
At the time Seysan attended the university, no degrees were awarded.
The school prepared students for academic excellence, he said, adding he
was able to exempt Calculus I and II after coming to UF.
Open University students studied on their own, and two weeks of every
semester the unemployed professors and students gathered in homes from 8
a.m. to about 6 p.m. to summarize and clear up any questions the
students may have had about their studies.
Professors received no pay and students paid only for supplies. No
tuition was charged.
Dying for an education
The Iranian government still refuses to employ anyone of the Baha'i faith,i
including professors in the university system.
And because declaring one's religion on an application in Iran is as
vital as a social security number in the United States, members of the
Baha'i Faith have no easy choices, Seysan said.
Escaping from Iran is an option only if a person has enough money and
the right connections to settle in another country.
"Escaping is very dangerous," said Seysan, recounting his escape from
the country five years ago. "I saw a friend of mine's father shot,
trying to cross the border."
Escapees stay only one day in the village and are then taken to several
larger cities in Turkey before they go to the United Nations office and
are declared refugees. Escapees then receive passports and visas.
The entire process took Seysan about 18 months. The Iranian government
has become less severe in their treatment of escapees who are caught,
"Now they take all your property, and you go to prison for some years,"
he said. "They usually don't kill now."
Power in the government lies with a majority of religiously trained
political leaders, Seysan said.
Few leaders have degrees in subjects such as economics or political science.
"The former, and right now the current president, has no university
degree. ... The foreign minister of Iran, he got his degree from one of
the universities in the (United States), but that's not the norm,"
The Iranian government is in violation of Article 13 of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights by denying
members of the Baha'i faith access to higher education, protesters said.
"We need to expose them," Seysan said. "They (the government) are like
bugs when the light is on them; they run."
Samim Anghaie, a UF nuclear engineering science professor, on Friday
began sending e-mails regarding the plight of the Open University to his
fellow faculty members and has since received more than 100 responses.
According to the Iranian government, the Baha'is are not entitled to any
rights, said Anghaie, who is from Iran. But "Baha'is live everywhere in
the world," he said. "Once Iran hears the outrage of people around the
world, the school will open again."
His peers agree the impetus for change lies in public awareness of the
"The only way to stop this injustice is for people in the educational
systems around the world to speak out," Moajer said.
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