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Baha’is of Iran

A Baha'i Educator Who Overcame the Denial of Education

March 28, 2023
Kian Sabeti
5 min read
Babak Beheshti Vadeghan was among several Baha’i citizens whose homes were targeted in a coordinated series of raids on May 22, 2011, by security forces of the Ministry of Intelligence

Babak Beheshti Vadeghan was among several Baha'i citizens whose homes were targeted during a coordinated series of raids on May 22, 2011, by security forces of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence. Each of these Baha’is was targeted for their work with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an informal higher education initiative started in 1987 by the Iranian Baha’i community after Baha’is were barred from the country's universities. The BIHE operates in-person classes in private homes in Iran as well as online courses with lecturers in the country and around the world. All BIHE professors and administers serve as volunteers.

Equipment and documents related to the BIHE were seized during the 2011 raids. Four of the homes owned by the Baha’is were sealed by the authorities because they were being used for classes in the sciences and other subjects. A large number of Baha’i professors and students, teaching and studying within the BIHE, were interrogated, some were arrested, and case files were opened against them.

In 2000, Babak Beheshti Vadeghan had been barred from taking Iran’s national university entrance exam and from attending university, because of his Baha’i beliefs. He turned to the BIHE where he studied mathematics. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2005 and, after graduating, began serving as a BIHE mathematics teacher. He was still serving as a teacher at the time of the 2011 raids.

Speaking to IranWire and giving his account of the raid on his home, Beheshti Vadeghan said: “At around 6 am on May 22, 2011, Intelligence Ministry agents, who initially introduced themselves as gas company workers, rang the doorbell.”

Beheshti’s father opened the door. When the agents presented their warrant, Beheshti’s father asked to be allowed to wake his family before they entered. The agents refused and, according to Beheshti, “They first entered the bedrooms while we were all asleep. This act shocked my sister immensely … I woke up from the noise in the room, and when I opened my eyes, I saw strangers walking around my bed and looking through my belongings.”

It was two years before Beheshti’s case went to trial. In 2013, Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran, headed by Judge Moghiseh, charged Beheshti with teaching Baha’i youth through the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. Beheshti had emigrated to Canada to pursue postgraduate studies, between his arrest and his trial, so he was sentenced in absentia to a five-year prison term.

Before his trial, Beheshti, along with several other BIHE professors and students, had been summoned by phone to the Ministry of Intelligence on Vali Asr Road for interrogation. He was charged with having been “illegally educated and trained in the illegal Baha’i institute.” His interrogators asked him to write his autobiography, in full detail, and demanded that he provide a list of the names and personal information of his Baha’i students. Beheshti refused and said that the names and personal information of his students were unrelated to the case. His interrogators threatened to detain him if he refused to comply. Beheshti resisted; nevertheless, after about three hours, he was released.

On March 12, 2013, 10 professors with the BIHE, including Beheshti, were summoned to the Shaheed Moghaddas Court in Evin Prison. “In the courtroom, the prosecutor charged me with acting against national security because of being a Baha’i or, according to him, because of membership in the ‘misguided Baha’i cult’ and being active in the ‘illicit’ Baha’i university,” Beheshti told IranWire.

One Evin interrogator asked Beheshti to accept the charges and sign an affidavit that he would no longer teach BIHE classes.

“I did not accept any of his requests,” Beheshti said. “I did finally agree to write that I did not have any hostility against the Islamic Republic regime, that I had not done anything against this regime, and that my goal was to teach at the BIHE to serve youth who otherwise would be deprived of university education. During the interrogation, as well, two or three unknown individuals were sitting behind me, interjecting, making comments and asking me unrelated and religious questions throughout my conversation with the interrogator. The interrogator showed no reaction to their behavior.”

Beheshti and six other Baha’i professors, who had also refused to sign commitments to no longer work with the BIHE, were released on bails of about 500 million rials, or about $12,500 at the time. The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran later  sentenced all seven Baha’is to either four or five years imprisonment for allegedly acting against national security.

Nasim Bagheri, one of the seven, who was sentenced to four yearscompleted her sentence in May 2018 and was released. Four other Baha’i professors, Payman KashkabaghiAzita RafizadehNegin Ghedamian and Hasan Momtaz, were still in prison as of June 2018. Tolo Golkar had left Iran before her sentence was executed. Beheshti had also left for Canada.

Beheshti told IranWire that the attacks of May 2011 on the BIHE failed to stop the institute from teaching classes – no courses were stopped as a result of the raids. The BIHE did, however, take greater care and caution to maintain the safety of its students and its volunteers. For example, before May 2011, a BIHE professor or class organizer would publish classrooms locations on the BIHE’s website; after the May 2011 raids, class locations were no longer published online, and students were notified of class dates and locations in a more secure manner.

Beheshti also personally experienced no negative impact on his own education – even after his interrogation.

“In July 2013, I migrated to Canada to continue my studies at Queen’s University, Ontario, studying mathematics,” Behesht told IranWire. “After two years, I received my master’s degree. I am currently a Ph.D. student in mathematics at the Western University, Ontario, and I hope that my education will be completed in two years.”

Beheshti said that the best years of his life, in terms of professional satisfaction and personal happiness, was the period during which he taught at BIHE. “Like any other Iranian, I love my homeland, and I wish to return to Iran one day. But with the decree issued against me, I do not think that day will come soon.”

Editor's note: The original Persian edition of this article was first published in June 2018.



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