Interview: Details of Bahai Students’ Deprivation of Education and Imprisonment of Right to Education Committee Members
In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Hessam Mishaghi, spokesperson for the Right to Education Committee, most of whose members are now in prison, spoke of barriers to education for Bahais and students who are active in civil and political activities at universities. He explained in this interview that contrary to Mohammad Javad Larijani’s statements in Geneva, in which he said no Bahai has been arrested or deprived from education or social rights on grounds of his Bahai faith, he and one of his friends have discovered a letter in which the Ministry of Science’s Security Department and Ministry of Intelligence have deprived them of education on the same grounds. Hessam Mishaghi also talked about the arrests of his friends and colleagues and how what Larijani said in Geneva was untrue. The Campaign‘s interview with this civil and student activist who has been deprived from education follows:
Campaign: Mr. Misaghi, you are a member of the Right to Education Committee. Why did you form this Committee and what is the situation with the Committee members right now?
Hessam Misaghi: This Committee was formed as an independent organization to regain the general right to education. Most of its members were Bahai students who had been deprived of education, but the Committee was working to regain the rights of all students deprived from education on grounds such as gender discrimination, suspension and dismissal orders for critical students, as well as deprivation of education for Bahai students, which has a long record.
This Committee had several meetings last May and June in different Iranian cities with the aim to disseminate information, something which was unprecedented under the oppressive conditions of Iran. The first meeting was held in Tehran. I participated in the meetings as the Spokesperson for the organization, so I delivered speeches. Navid Khanjani was the founder and Head of this independent organization. The Committee was established as an independent organization to regain the general right to education. Three Committee members were arrested within 24 hours and three other members’ homes were searched.
Who are the other Committee members who have been arrested or are being pursued?
Hessam Misaghi: Dorsa Sobhani, one of our Committee colleagues in Sari is under immense pressure. Her father was arrested by six people yesterday and was interrogated blindfolded and handcuffed while he was beaten. Eeghan Shahidi, a Committee colleague in Kermanshah was arrested early in the morning on March 3rd. Sama Nourani, a Shiraz colleague who has been deprived from her medical engineering education at Tabriz Sahand University was arrested on March 3rd. I must add that after joining the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, our Committee’s central members established a new organization named “Society Against Educational Discrimination,” and this is how threats and arrests of members of Committee of Human Rights Reporters came to be related to arrests of our organization which is a defender of the right to education.
Were you summoned, too?
Hessam Misaghi: I was summoned on January 2nd. I didn’t show up at the Ministry of Intelligence. On March 3rd they stormed my home and the home of Sepehr Atefi, one of our colleagues in the Right to Education Committee and searched the premises. I have to add that we were an independent organization and our only objective was to defend the right to an education.
What were your group’s objectives regarding the right to education?
Hessam Misaghi: We ask for freedom of thought for university entry. The Right to Education Committee has been dissolved. All our colleagues are now active with the Society Against Educational Discrimination.
What do you think is the reason for the confrontation with this group? Is it because some of the members are Bahais? Or is it because the Ministry of Science has consistently denied the “starred student” phenomenon? Or are there other reasons?
Hessam Misaghi: The government deprives applicants and students from their education, as well as arresting people who are activists around this subject. I think the arrests of these individuals is not related solely to their being Bahais. These individuals were involved in civil activities to defend student rights. The rulers neither approve of their being Bahais, nor their civil activities. Bahais’ joining the Iranian civil society and joining other civil activists working to defend their fellow countrymen’s rights is a very significant development and I think the rulers cannot tolerate this, hence the severe crackdown on these education-deprived students. Dorsa Sobhani was also a One Million Signatures Campaign activist in Sari.
Crackdowns on the Right to Education activists is not unprecedented. Currently members of the Council to Defend the Right to Education are also in prison. Zia Nabavi, Majid Dorri, Saeed Jalalifar, Mahdieh Golroo, and Shiva Nazar Ahari are the ones in prison now.
What do you think about the recent remarks by Minister of Science, in which he said those who do not share the regime’s views–more specifically those who do not have practical commitment to Islam and Velayat-e Faghih–will be dismissed from universities?
Hessam Misaghi: Such an approach is in contradiction to international human rights standards and shows the short-sightedness of a regime which does not accept any opposite views. In a country where the entire nation think the same way, no progress will be achieved. It is through criticism and challenge that new ideas are heard and progress is achieved.
What do you think these remarks could bring student political activists?
Hessam Misaghi: Such statements will only intensify the ruling oppression in the society and will increase pressure on student and civil activists. Consequently, security organizations would also confront harder, as we are witnessing, even though many students are already in prison. Now we see even those who have never been allowed to enter the universities despite their efforts for gaining admission are also arrested.
Can you provide more details about Dorsa Sobhani?
Hessam Misaghi: Dorsa is 20 years old. Her father was threatened by telling him that if Dorsa did not turn herself in on Saturday, they would arrest his wife and their younger daughter.
Dorsa’s father said that two days ago, when he left his home, six men waiting outside his home told him that he had to go with them. They then transferred him to an unknown location. He was handcuffed and blindfolded and interrogated for four hours during which he was threatened. I already told you about threats. Dorsa has to turn herself in on Saturday, otherwise her family will be arrested and her home will be confiscated.
Where was Dorsa?
Hessam Misaghi: Dorsa had taken a trip to (…) on the day the officers stormed their home at night.
Is she back now?
Hessam Mishaghi: They have told her father that she should return and turn herself in tomorrow. She will most likely be arrested.
What is her charge?
Hessam Misaghi: They didn’t say anything about charges. They just said we have a warrant and we will explain the charges after arrest. In my and Sepehr’s cases, they informed us of the same charges as for the other Committee members, meaning “contact with MKO” and “moharebeh.”
Are you a Bahai yourself?
Hessam Misaghi: Yes, I am from a Bahai family. This was used in a Ministry of Science letter as grounds for my dismissal from Isfahan’s Sanaee University in 2008, after I had finished two terms studying English Translation. I should add that most of my classmates did not know anything about my being a Bahai, it had never been discussed.
How did they find out and expel you?
Hessam Misaghi: Usually Bahai students are dismissed after a ruling arrives from Ministry of Science’s Security Department. Tne Ministry of Intelligence has all the statistics on Bahai families; they identify [the students] and do the expulsion.
How do they get their statistics? Do families announce that they are Bahais?
Hessam Misaghi: Yes. Bahai’s don’t conceal their belief because it is forbidden for them. If someone asks them they announce that they are Bahais.
What happens if you object? Is there any source to respond to your objection?
Hessam Misaghi: Over the past years, objections have been registered with Ministry of Science, Evaluation Organization, and The Cultural Revolution Superior Council both in written form and in person. But the authorities do not answer at all and consider themselves not at fault.
Navid Khanjani and I even had a situation when last December 17th we went to Ministry of Science. We were detained in a room inside the Ministry of Science for a whole day. We were threatened and interrogated because we had found a confidential letter which Ministry of Science authorities didn’t want to leave the Ministry and we were not giving them the letter.
What was in the letter?
Hessam Misaghi: It was a letter in which it was clearly stated that dismissal of these students was on orders from Ministry of Science’s Security Department. The letter has been scanned and I can send you the file. I was so surprised when I heard Larijani’s statements. We have heard so many lies during these years but this was really surprising. How far can a government go to deny its actions? We are a generation who has heard years of lies and when we tried to expose the lies we ended up in prison, like Navid, Eeghan, Sama, and maybe even Dorsa…
Does the Committee only pertain to education-deprived students or does it also include the starred students?
Hessam Misaghi: We had starred students in our gatherings, too. Our gatherings were a tribune for all education-deprived students from all orientations.
Therefore your organization is only six months old and you have endured so much pressure?
Hessam Misaghi: Yes, that’s right.
You have been illegally barred from continuing your education. When responding to criticism about imprisoning Iranian Bahais and denying them the right to education, Javad Larijani denied it in Geneva. On the other hand, when you ask the authorities to be responsive, you are summoned and arrested. How does this make you feel?
Hessam Misaghi: With all these problems, and even though my best friends are in jail, I am still not disappointed, because I know people of Iran hear our voices. Iranians’ voices demanding their rights have been heard by the world for a while now. We are people who have never accepted injustice and have fought for regaining our rights until our last breaths.