Iranian Authorities Raid an Online Learning Network
This past weekend, amidst continued, under-the-radar simmering of Green Movement activities, an online educational network for Baha'I youth was raided. The Baha'I are, at about 300,000 people, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran.
It’s the policy of the Iranian regime that no Baha’I is allowed to have access to higher education. Anyone found to be a student at a higher education institution is immediately expelled. That’s why, in an effort to meet the educational needs of young people, an effort was made to establish what has now become the ‘Baha’I Institute for Higher Education’, to give these otherwise capable, but excluded youth access to education via online distance learning. The BIHE has been described by the New York Times as "an elaborate act of communal self-preservation." Bahai’I young people have been able to access courses taught by professors from all corners of the world using the open course management system Moodle.
On Saturday, as many as 30 homes in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz were again raided, and some 14 Baha’is have been arrested. "All of the targets were homes of individuals closely involved with the operations of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. "The Institute has been a remarkably creative – and entirely non-violent – response to the Iranian government's on-going effort to stifle the normal human development of the Baha'I community," she added.
This is not the first time that the BIHE has come under attack from Iranian authorities. One of the biggest blows was a series of sweeping raids carried out in 1998, during which some 36 members of the BIHE's faculty and staff were arrested, and much of its equipment and records – located in more than 500 homes – was taken. Other actions against the operations of BIHE were carried out in 2001 and 2002.
These attacks – and Iran's general policy prohibiting young Baha'is from entering higher education – have been met with strong condemnation by governments, academics, UN agencies, civil society organizations and others. As Leonard Leo, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said:
“The Iranian government will stop at nothing in its shameless persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. It’s not enough that authorities already have a policy in place preventing Baha'is from attending Iranian universities–the government is now systematically trying to dismantle the Baha'I community’s internal initiative to ensure that its youth have the opportunity to get an education beyond high school.”
Now that the Baha’I community is using online tools to bolster its underground education network, is it more or less susceptible to these kinds of raids? The skill of the Iranian cyber army probably does not bode well for the Bahai'i continued efforts.
7 leaders of the Baha’I community are in Iranian prisons and now, with these arrests, the number of Baha'is imprisoned approaches 100. This number hasn’t been so high in roughly 2 decades. a number not seen in more than two decades.’
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