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Originator: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Date: 1999/05/06
Country: IRAN
Person(s): Sina Hakiman, Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi, Habibullah Ferdosian Najafabadi and Ziaullah Mirzapanah
Profession: Other
Category: Legact
Source: HRW

Four faculty members of Baha'i Institute for Higher Education sentenced

(HRW/IFEX) - Human Right Watch's Academic Freedom Committee is expressing its grave concern over the conviction and sentencing of four faculty members of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).

Human Right Watch's Academic Freedom Committee has learned that on 19 April 1999, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Isfahan sentenced four followers of the Baha'i faith to jail terms ranging from three to ten years imprisonment, ruling that their participation in teaching religion to other Baha'is constituted crimes against national security.

According to Baha'i representatives outside of Iran, the four were Sina Hakiman (ten years in jail), Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi (seven years), Habibullah Ferdosian Najafabadi (seven years), and Ziaullah Mirzapanah (three years). All four were teachers in the BIHE (also known as the Baha'i Open University), which operates out of the homes of members of the faith. The four were among thirty-six Baha'is who were arrested in late September and early October 1998 in a concerted government crackdown against Baha'i education in fourteen cities. Authorities reportedly raided over 500 homes, which serve as classrooms for the institute, seizing files, equipment, and other property used by the BIHE. The other thirty-two people arrested have since been released.

Since the early 1980s, adherents of the Baha'i faith, viewed as heretics by the clerical establishment, have been effectively banned from teaching or studying at colleges and universities in Iran. Although Iranian officials claim that no one can be punished because of their beliefs, Baha'is can be and are punished for manifesting their beliefs in public. The constitution of the Islamic Republic does not include Baha'ism among its list of recognised religions, and Baha'i assemblies were officially outlawed in 1983, making participation in any Baha'i activity a basis for possible criminal prosecution. Members of the religion have also been barred from public employment, including teaching positions at public schools.

Discrimination against Baha'i students is intentional. A secret memorandum on "the Baha'i question" from the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, dated February 25, 1991, stated with reference to attendance at universities: "They should be expelled from the universities, either at the time of the admission procedure or during their studies, as soon as it becomes apparent that they are Baha'is." The Iranian deputy minister of education in December 1995 told Abdelfattah Amor, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Question of Religious Intolerance, that Baha'is were free to enter institutions of higher education as long as they do not "flaunt their beliefs." Thus, even the government's defense of its policies has provided further evidence that practicing Baha'is are not given equal access to higher education.

As a human rights organisation, it is not Human Rights Watch's intention to support or dispute the opinions, ideas, or religious beliefs of the academics and students whose cases the organisation discusses. It is, however, a central feature of the organisation's mandate to defend their right to express their views and to study, research, teach, and publish without interference.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the head of the judiciary:
  • noting that the arrest and sentencing of the four Baha'i teachers directly violate principles established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including their rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
  • noting that the imposition of jail terms on the Baha'i teachers also directly contravenes provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Iran has ratified and is therefore lawfully obliged to uphold. The ICESCR guarantees, "without discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion" (Article 2 (2)), "the right of everyone to education" (Article 13(1)) and the right of parents and legal guardians "to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which…ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions" (Article 13(3)).
  • urging him, for the reasons set forth above, to use his influence and authority to seek reversal of the convictions of the four Baha'i teachers, to obtain their immediate and unconditional release, and to openly oppose all forms of discrimination in higher education in Iran, whether based on religious affiliation or political views

    Appeals to

    His Excellency Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi
    Head of the Judiciary
    c/o His Excellency Nejad Hosseinian
    Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the
    United Nations

    cc: H. E. Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Sayed Mohammad Khatami President Islamic Republic of Iran E-mail:

    H. E. Dr. Mostafa Moin Minister of Culture and Higher Education Islamic Republic of Iran

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

    More information

    For further information, contact Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Ave., 34th Floor, New York NY 10018-3299, U.S.A., tel: +1 212 290 4700, fax: +1 212 736 1300, e-mail: or Human Rights Watch, 1522 K Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20005-1202, U.S.A., tel: +1 202 371 6592, fax: +1 202 371 0124, e-mail:, Internet:

    The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of HRW. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit HRW.

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