WASHINGTON – On February 16, representatives from the Baha’i community met with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to discuss the persecution of Baha’is associated with Baha’i Institute for Higher Education in Iran. BIHE is an informal higher education system created in 1987 by members of the Baha’i community in Iran as a direct response to the Iranian government’s refusal to allow Baha’is to attend universities. Over the years, the government has, on several occasions, conducted raids on BIHE and arrested BIHE faculty and staff. In 2011, the Iranian government again conducted sweeping raids and arrests. It then declared BIHE to be illegal, charged seven educators affiliated with BIHE of conspiracy against national security and conspiracy against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and sentenced these educators to four- and five-year terms of imprisonment for “membership of the deviant sect of Bahá’ísm.”
The group meeting with the Commission included two Iranian-American Baha’is living in the U.S., whose fathers are currently imprisoned in Iran for their efforts to educate Baha’i youth through BIHE. The group also included a recent graduate of BIHE, who obtained her degree in architecture from BIHE in Iran and is now working at an architectural firm in the U.S., as well as an Iranian-American professor who assists in the administration of BIHE.
Through their discussions with the Baha’is, the Commissioners were able to learn about how BIHE works, what BIHE has meant to a generation of Baha’i youth seeking education, and the deplorable prison conditions that the BIHE educators are now enduring. These discussions provided the Commission with first-hand information about the situation in Iran as it compiles its annual report, which has historically highlighted the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.