On behalf of the Bahá'í Community of Canada, as well as our co-religionists in Iran, I am writing to thank you and your colleagues in the association for the interest and concern you have shown in the fate of the Bahá'í Institute of Higher Education in Iran. We were pleasantly surprised and much encouraged by the publication of the facts of the situation in the Bulletin.
Faced by the refusal of Iranian authorities to allow members of Iran's largest religious minority, the Bahá'í Community, to attend post-secondary institutions of education, the attempt by the Iranian Bahá'ís to provide their young people some form of higher education through the Institute for Higher Education was a courageous and creative initiative.
We were astonished and appalled when we received word the Iranian regime intended to do what it could to shut down that one remaining avenue through which Iranian Bahá'í youth could advance their education.
Since the arrests of 36 staff members of the Institute of Higher Education in October 1998, 33 were eventually released. However, three of those arrested, we have now learned have been sentenced to prison terms of seven years in the case of Mr. Habibullah Ferdosian and Mr. Farrad Khajeh, and 10 years in the case of Dr. Sina Hakiman, all because of their involvement in providing higher education to young people.
The staff and students of the institute have decided to continue their efforts to maintain a schedule of study, lectures, laboratory work and class assignments, all conducted informally, through the use of distance-learning techniques, and despite the possibility of further threats and harassment by government officials, but now without the equipment and books that were seized in early October.
We are pleased to report the Director General's Office of UNESCO has launched an investigation. Though the mandate of UNESCO prevents public disclosure of the details of steps they are taking to address this violation of the right to education, we have received formal confirmation of UNESCO's efforts to address this intolerable situation.
We believe the interest and concern shown by academics in a number of countries are very much part of the reason UNESCO has responded. We are also aware that Iranian authorities themselves are aware of the international attention given this issue. While the situation facing Bahá'ís remains serious, we feel certain the attention of the international academic community serves to moderate the attempts to oppress the Bahá'í minority.
We have been particularly gratified by the response demonstrated within the Canadian academic community to a situation far beyond our borders, but one which Canadian university teachers have evidently understood to be a challenge to intellectual freedom and the rights which all human beings should enjoy to pursue higher education.
On behalf of the 28,000 member Bahá'í Community of Canada, please accept our sincerest gratitude for your having taken what is, no doubt, an unusual step for your association in voicing its concern about higher education far from Canada.
Director of External Affairs Bahá'í Community of Canada