Every year for the past 34 years, Iran’s Education Evaluation Organization has refused young members of Iran’s Baha’i minority admittance to Iran’s institutions of higher education. For at least the past 20 years, the organization’s excuse has been that applicants have filed an “incomplete dossier.”
This year, it is clear that at least 129 of those rejected after successfully passing the National Iranian University Entrance Exam were Baha’is.
The education ban against Baha’is -- who are Iran’s largest religious minority -- began soon after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Right after the revolution, authorities shut down Iran’s universities. They did not reopen until December 18, 1982. During this period, which authorities called the “Cultural Revolution,” the new Islamist government set about “purging” all Baha’is from future involvement in education.
In the summer of 1983, Iran held its first nationwide university entrance exams since the revolution. Before taking the exam, applicants were required to complete and mail in registration forms. These forms demanded the applicant’s religion. The applicant had only four choices: Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism. Baha’i applicants added “Baha’i faith” to the list themselves and checked it.
That year, the Baha’i applicants received a handwritten letter telling them that they were not qualified to participate in the entrance exams. In the ensuing years, they received no letter. When they tried to participate in the exams, they were turned away. “You have not been issued a participation card,” they were told
The Origins of the “Incomplete Dossier”
In 2004, authorities suddenly announced that the choice on the registration form for religion was meant for selecting the applicant’s “religious knowledge test” in entrance exams, and not, it was implied, a matter of the applicant’s faith. So in 2005, many Baha’i applicants registered in the nationwide exams by selecting “Islam” on the form. This was the first time after the revolution that Iranian Baha’is were able to participate in the entrance exams.
After the test results were announced, however, dozens of Baha’is who had passed the tests were refused the opportunity to choose their field of studies. On the last day before the deadline for selecting courses, the authorities invited all Baha’i applicants to visit the Education Evaluation Organization in Karaj, near Tehran. But the day coincided with a public holiday.
“All doors to offices were closed,” one Baha’i applicant recounts. “Only one door was open. A few people were sitting behind desks and received the applicants. It was not clear whether those behind desks were officials of the evaluation organization or worked for another government agency such as the Intelligence Ministry. First, they asked the name and the religion of the applicant. Then the applicants were told that they could not choose a field of study because of their ‘incomplete dossier.’ Applicants would then sign a request to pursue the matter further. Applicants from Tehran were given a receipt for their requests. Those from provinces were told that they would mail them the receipts but they never did mail them.”
This was the start of a new phase. Baha’is could participate in the entrance exams, but could not get into universities even if they did pass the tests. This is when “incomplete dossier” rejections started.
It Cannot Be “Incomplete”
Saraj is a young Baha’i who has been refused higher education. He lives south of Iran and has recently received his high school diploma. He has taken the nationwide entrance exams for the first time and has passed the tests. “On September 19, all applicants were required to choose their fields,” he says, “but when I and other Baha’is went to the web page [of the Education Evaluation Organization] we saw that we could not do so because of ‘incomplete dossiers.’”
He says that this is just an excuse to deny higher education to Baha’is. To register for the exam, everybody has to fill out 49 items on the registration form. If even one item is not filled in, the applicant cannot participate in the exams.
But how did the Education Evaluation Organization learn that Saraj and others were Baha’is? “On the registration form, there are no questions about the applicant’s religion,” says Saraj. “The choice is for the religious knowledge test. But during registration, many [pre-college] schools ask the students about their faith. And there are periodic censuses in Iran. That is how they identify names belonging to Baha’is. I believe that the decision to disqualify the Baha’is is taken the moment that the Education Evaluation Organization identifies them. What happens after the tests is a mere formality.”
Another Baha’i who has passed the entrance exams on multiple occasions, but has always been refused because of an “incomplete dossier,” tells IranWire about his efforts to pursue his case. “I and a couple of others first went to the Education Evaluation Organization in Karaj, but we were informed verbally that our real problem was that we were Baha’is.” Then the officials told them to sign a letter that said, “The undersigned participated in the 2016 entrance exam but the Education Evaluation Organization has not approved my qualification for choosing my field of studies. Considering that I have no legal, security or moral issues and have never been summoned to court, I ask you to reexamine my qualifications.”
“My friends and I refused to sign the letter,” he says. “We said that like all Iranians, we have our rights as citizens, that we are qualified for education, and that a person’s religion has nothing to do with education. We wrote and signed our own letters and gave them to the organization’s secretariat, but they said that our letters were useless and that we must sign the printed letters to pursue the cases. They had a list of 129 Baha’is at the Education Evaluation Organization in Karaj who were banned from higher education because of incomplete dossiers. They asked our names and then check-marked them on the list.”
Applications Allowed for Propaganda Purposes
The Baha’i applicants continue to pursue the matter. “Mr. Naeemani, vice-president for students, told us that our faith was the reason for our incomplete dossiers,” IranWire’s source says. “We requested that he investigate because, by law, every individual has a right to education regardless of race and religion. He answered that ‘we act under the directive passed by High Council of Cultural Revolution which bans Baha’is from university education.’ After extensive investigations, we found out that the only person in charge of Baha’i cases is Morteza Nourbakhsh, the director of student selection. Nourbakhsh has been in this position since 2002, even though the government has changed hands three times. We met him and he told us that no solution was possible at the moment. He added that even the fact that the Baha’is could participate in the entrance exam at all was his doing. But what is the use of participating in the exam when as a Baha’i you cannot study at the university? On the one hand, you waste a lot of time and money. On the other hand, it works as propaganda to tell the world that in Iran Baha’is can participate in the entrance exams like everybody else.”
In recent days a number of young Baha’is whose dossiers were not marked as incomplete did register at the university. But when the semester started, they were expelled. This happened to Hannan Hor in the northern city of Babol and to Afagh Afshari in Yazd, even though she had paid her tuition and had received her temporary student ID. When she went to the Education Evaluation Organization she was told, “you have been banned from education for one of the three reasons: Religion, criminal record or political activities. You decide for yourself which one it is in your case.”