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Iran: Baha'i Sect

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment the UK Government have made of the impact of the changes in recent years in Iran's treatment of Baha'is in respect of higher education; and if he will make a statement. (155356)

We remain concerned about the treatment of religious minorities in Iran and discrimination against the Baha'i community in particular. Denial of access to higher education has been a long-term problem for Baha'i students.

After the removal of religious identification from the national university entrance examination in 2006, a number of Baha'i students sat the exam for academic year 2006-07. Although over 250 Baha'i students were admitted to various campuses across Iran last autumn, reports suggest that at least 120 were subsequently expelled as universities became aware of their religion. We are concerned that more Baha'i students may be expelled in the future.

We recently received reports that students applying for places in technical and vocational institutions for the forthcoming 2007-08 academic year have been required to complete a form which asks them to state their religion. The minority religion options listed are Christian, Zoroastrian or Jewish and the form explains that if no box is marked the applicant will be considered to be Muslim. This is a worrying return to the earlier position whereby applicants had to state their religious affiliation. We wait to see whether there will be a similar change in admission procedures for university entry this academic year.

We take this issue seriously and will continue to monitor the situation and take action as required. We have pressed the Iranian authorities on many occasions, bilaterally and through the EU, to address the discrimination against Iranian Baha'is. The EU did so most recently on 1 September, raising specific concerns about access to education. We also take action at the UN and in December 2006, we along with all EU countries, co-sponsored a resolution on human rights in Iran which expressed serious concern at

“the increased frequency of discrimination and other human rights violations against members of the Baha'i Faith, including [...] the denial of access to higher education”.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations have been (a) received and (b) made by the UK Government regarding the effects on Baha'i students of religious requirements introduced for entry to Iran's technical and vocational institutes. (155357)

The Government received reports last month from the National Assembly of the Baha'is of the United Kingdom about a change in the application procedure for Iran's technical and vocational institutes. Students applying for places at these institutions for academic year 2007-08 have been required to complete a form that asks them to state their religion. The minority religion options listed are Christian, Zoroastrian or Jewish, and the form explains that if no box is marked the applicant will be considered to be Muslim. Baha'i students are effectively excluded from studying in these institutes unless they deny their faith by having it incorrectly recorded on official forms. This is a worrying new example of systematic discrimination against members of the Baha'i minority in Iran, who have long faced restrictions on access to higher education.

We continue to raise our concerns about the treatment of the Iranian Baha'is with Iran, bilaterally and through the EU. In a meeting with the Iranian authorities on 1 September, the EU, with strong UK support, condemned such discriminatory measures used against the Baha'i community, and pressed Iran to uphold their international human rights commitments to freedom of religion and to ensure that Baha'is are given the same rights as other Iranian citizens including access to education.