Almost 50 leaders of medical education in the United States have joined the worldwide protest against the Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’i students and educators.
Forty-eight Deans and Senior Vice-Presidents – who between them head more than a third of American medical schools – have signed an open letter addressed to Iran’s representative to the United Nations. The letter was published on the Persian-language “Association Against Education Discrimination” website on 7 December – the day that Iranian student movements annually commemorate Student Day.
“We are writing as individuals who are leaders of globally recognized educational institutions to voice our concern about the treatment of Baha’i students and educators in Iran,” the letter says.
“As leaders of medical education, we believe that education is an inherent human right. At our respective institutions, we have hosted and continue to host students, residents, fellows, and faculty irrespective of their religious beliefs from all over the world. We have welcomed this diverse population into our educational communities to contribute to the discovery and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”
The letter’s chief signatory – Dr. Philip Pizzo, Dean of Stanford University’s School of Medicine – helped collect the signatures last month at the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Council of Medical School Deans.
The statement details the systematic attack launched by Iranian authorities against an informal community initiative – known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – which was set up to provide education for young Baha’is barred from university. Seven Baha’is associated with BIHE are now serving four- and five-year jail terms.
“The arresting of BIHE faculty and administrators as well as the banning of generations of Baha’is from education solely on the basis of their religious background are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to which Iran is a State Party,” the letter continues.
“We therefore urge your government to release the instructors and administrators of BIHE from prison. We also request that your government extend Baha’i students and faculty in Iran the same rights to education that we offer every student and professor at our institutions regardless of their heritage, religion or country of origin.”
The open letter was published on the same day that the situation of Baha’i educators and students was raised in a joint statement by an international group of lawmakers – US Senators Mark Kirk and Joseph Lieberman, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, British MP Denis MacShane, Australian MP Michael Danby, Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein, and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris.
These latest actions come just days after Senator Mobina Jaffer, Canada’s first Muslim senator, told a Canadian Senate enquiry that it was “unprecedented” that Iran has now criminalized the education of young people.
The condemnation of the imprisonment of the seven Baha’i educators has spanned the world. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has led the criticism of their sentences, along with such prominent figures as Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jose Ramos-Horta, and Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, the former UN peacekeeping force commander who tried to stop the 1990s genocide in Rwanda.
In October, some 43 distinguished philosophers and theologians in 16 countries signed an open letter protesting against the attack on BIHE.
In Germany, some 45 prominent professors have demanded the immediate release of the seven, while in Australia, letters of protest have been sent by 73 university academics, and Universities Australia, representing the vice-chancellors of all Australian universities.
Last month, more than 50 academics in Ireland called upon the Iranian authorities to allow access to higher education for all, while 26 professionals from the cinema industry urged the government of Brazil to defend the rights of filmmakers, journalists and Baha’i educators and called upon Iran to immediately release those imprisoned.