Archives for the month of: January, 2008

NEW TACTIC OBSTRUCTS BAHA’I ENROLLMENTS IN IRANIAN UNIVERSITIES

GENEVA, 31 January 2008 (BWNS) — More than a million students take Iran’s national university entrance examination each year. So Halaku Rahmaniyan was extremely pleased when he learned he had placed 76th from the top.

“I was happy, because I knew that it was a good result and that I could enter any subject in any university with that ranking,” the 18-year-old student from Tehran wrote in a blog recently.

He did not understand why, then, he still had not been accepted anywhere by December. So Mr. Rahmaniyan called the national Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization (EMEO), which administers the exam, and spoke with a top official.

The official, too, was puzzled — until Mr. Rahmaniyan said he was a Baha’i.

“Suddenly, after the word ‘Baha’i,’ he discontinued the call,” wrote Mr. Rahmaniyan.

Then he received a letter from the EMEO.

“Respectfully, in response to your request for the issuance of a certificate of ranking for the year 2007, we would like to inform you that owing to you having an incomplete file, issuance of a certificate of ranking is not possible,” stated the letter.

The story is one of many from Iran in recent months that highlight the latest tactic by the Iranian government in its long-running campaign to block Baha’is from access to higher education: to claim that their examination files are somehow “incomplete.”

Almost 800 of the more than 1,000 Baha’is who sat for and properly completed the entrance exam in June 2007 have received word that their files are “incomplete” — thus preventing their enrollment.

“These latest figures show that, despite its denials, the Iranian government is continuing its campaign to prevent Baha’is from going to university,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“The tactic of claiming that the examination files of Baha’i students are somehow ‘incomplete’ is yet another ruse by the government to act as if it respects human rights while covertly moving ahead with its persecution of Baha’is,” said Ms. Ala’i, noting that none of the some 900 Baha’is who sat for the examination in 2006 received a notice of “incomplete files.”

For more than 25 years, Baha’is have been banned from public and private universities in Iran. After pressure from the United Nations, governments, academic, educational, and human rights organizations, the government indicated in 2004 that it would stop asking university applicants about their religious affiliation, which seemed to open the door to Baha’i enrollments.

Each year since then, however, the government, which has been actively pursuing a campaign to identify all of the Baha’is in Iran and therefore is able to target Baha’i university students, has come up with some type of obstruction.

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For the 2006-2007 academic year, the main tactic used to deprive Baha’is of access to higher education was expulsions.

As noted, about 900 Baha’i students sat for the exam in June 2006. Nearly 500 passed and were listed as eligible to apply to university. Yet of the roughly 200 who ultimately managed to enroll in university in autumn 2006, the majority were gradually expelled over the course of the academic year.

The students were expelled as their identity as Baha’is became known to university officials.

That those expulsions reflect official government policy was confirmed in a confidential 2006 letter from Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology instructing Iranian universities to expel any student who is discovered to be a Baha’i.

Baha’i students have been speaking out on blogs and in other forums. Nevertheless, the names have been withheld in the following accounts to protect their identity.

In October, a male student from Hamadan, who was expelled last year, told how many Baha’i students wished to educate themselves in part to help advance the development of their country.

“In order to better play our role in the reformation and distinction of this sacred land, we ask the respected officials to remove all obstacles for the entrance and continuation of the education of Baha’i students and lovers of knowledge at all universities in the country,” he said.

In February, a young woman wrote to a high official to ask why she had been suddenly expelled from Payame Noor University.

“Of what crime have we been accused?” she asked. “After many years of yearning to receive a university education, I was ultimately given permission to enroll at a university this current year. Alas, I was expelled because of my religion after attending classes for a few weeks.”

As noted, for the 2007-2008 academic calendar, of the more than 1,000 students who sat for and properly completed the entrance examination, nearly 800 were excluded because of “incomplete files.”

Mr. Rahmaniyan learned of his high score from an Internet posting in the fall. “I ranked 54th in the regional quota and had come 76th nationwide,” he wrote in a blog entry.

“Soon after, I found out that most of the Baha’i youth of my age group, were not even permitted to see their exam results because of having what had been announced on the Internet as ‘incomplete file,'” he wrote. “My joy turned into sorrow….”

Ms. Ala’i noted that Mr. Rahmaniyan’s case is not unusual. Many Baha’is this year, as in previous years, scored well on the national university entrance examination but were not allowed entry, even though other students with lower scores were allowed to enroll, she said.

“The low percentage of Baha’is in university in Iran is not because of low test scores or poor academic achievement,” said Ms. Ala’i. “It is simply because the government has sought by various means to block Baha’is from enrolling or staying in university.”

In 2004 and 2005, she said, the Baha’is were prevented from enrolling because the government sent back the examination papers with the word “Islam” printed in the data field for a prospective student’s religion. That was unacceptable to Baha’is until it was clarified in 2006 and 2007 that that notation only meant the student had passed the exam’s section on Islam, and did not indicate religious identity.

“Despite repeated protests by Western academics, university officials, and college students in many countries, not to mention resolutions at the United Nations and efforts by human rights organizations, Iran has clearly continued its campaign to prevent Baha’is from gaining access to higher education, even while they claim that no such discrimination exists.

“A serious effort by the government to end this injustice would be a first step towards showing the world its genuine commitment to international human rights standards and equal treatment of all its citizens regardless of their religious belief,” said Ms. Ala’i.

EGYPT COURT UPHOLDS BAHA’I PLEA IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CASES

CAIRO, 29 January 2008 (BWNS) — In a victory for religious freedom, a lower administrative court here today ruled in favor of two lawsuits that sought to resolve the government’s contradictory policy on religious affiliation and identification papers.

The Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo upheld arguments made in two cases concerning Baha’is who have sought to restore their full citizenship rights by asking that they be allowed to leave the religious affiliation field blank on official documents.

“Given the degree to which issues of religious freedom stand at the heart of human rights issues in the Middle East, the world should cheer at the decision in these two cases today,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The compromise offered by the Baha’is in these two cases opens the door to a way to reconcile a government policy that was clearly incompatible with international law — as well as common sense,” said Ms. Dugal.

“Our hope now is that the government will quickly implement the court’s decision and allow Baha’is once again to enjoy the full rights of citizenship to which they are duly entitled,” said Ms. Dugal.

The decisions today concerned two cases, both filed by Baha’is, over the issue of how they are to be identified on government documents.

The first case involves a lawsuit by the father of twin children, who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them. The second concerns a college student, who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university.

The government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation but restricts the choice to the three officially recognized religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Baha’is are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation.

Without national identify cards — or, as in the case of the twin children, birth certificates — Baha’is and others caught in the law’s contradictory requirements are deprived of a wide range of citizenship rights, such as access to employment, education, and medical and financial services.

These problems were highlighted in a report issued in November by Human Rights Watch and the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

“Employers, both public and private, by law cannot hire someone without an ID, and academic institutions require IDs for admission,” said the report. “Obtaining a marriage license or a passport requires a birth certificate; inheritance, pensions, and death benefits are contingent on death certificates. The Ministry of Health has even refused to provide immunizations to some Baha’i children because the Interior Ministry would not issue them birth certificates accurately listing their Baha’i religion.”

The issuance of birth certificates is at the heart of the first case, which concerns 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Rauf Hindi. Their father, Rauf Hindi, obtained birth certificates that recognized their Baha’i affiliation when they were born.

But new policies require computer generated certificates, and the computer system locks out any religious affiliation but the three officially recognized religions. And without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school in Egypt.

The second lawsuit was filed by the EIPR last February on behalf of 18-year-old Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University’s Higher Institute of Social Work in January 2006 due to his inability to obtain an identity card because of his refusal to falsely identify himself as either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

In both cases, lawyers representing the Baha’is have made it clear that they were willing to settle for cards or documents on which the religious affiliation field is left blank or filled in, perhaps, as “other.”

This solution is what makes these two cases different from the lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court last year. In that ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a decision by the lower that upheld the right of Baha’is to be properly identified on government documents.

Canadian architect featured at Yale event on sacred architecture
New Haven, Connecticut, 12 December 2007 (CBNS) — On October 26 and 27th 2007, the Yale School of Architecture held a symposium called, “Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture”. Among the presenters was Fariborz Sahba, Canadian architect of the Bahá’í House of Worship in India and the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel.

Art as supplication, new book “Otto Donald Rogers” released
Toronto, Ontario, 13 November 2007 (Rob O’Flanagan, CBNS) — Every work of art Otto Rogers has set out to make began with a sense of great anticipation. “Within the act of creation lies the anticipation of assistance,” said Rogers, 72, who is the subject of a major new art book from Radius Books, a new publisher based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.Otto Donald Rogers art books against the backdrop of his latest paintings at David Mirvish Books
Otto Donald Rogers was released this month. “It’s a wonderful thing to feel as if you are being assisted from some power outside of yourself – to feel moved,” said the artist, speaking of the potential spiritual incentive that lies hidden in the act of painting.

“I could never anticipate what the work would be like and I still can’t. I always look forward to what the outcome of that assistance might be.”

Rogers’ artistic momentum began at the age of 17, shortly after leaving his hometown in Saskatchewan to begin his artistic education, first at the Saskatoon Teachers’ College and then at the University of Wisconsin.

The vast openness of the Saskatchewan landscape maintains a symbolic presence in his paintings and constructions, which owe much to the visual tutelage of the great painters of the 20th century – George Braque, Kurt Schwitters, Antonio Tapies and others.

In America in the mid-1950s, Rogers first encountered the works of the modernist masters of the day, people like Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, who would influence his own approach to painting.

It was around the same time that he first encountered the Baha’i Faith, introduced to him by his future wife, Barbara. He embraced the religion. His religious and artistic practices have carried on a symbiotic relationship for nearly half a century.

“The intoxication of the natural world experienced as a child now combined with the impressions of contemporary art to produce a transforming effect,” he writes in the compelling essay that accompanies Otto Donald Rogers, a 177-page book which features coloured reproductions of works completed over the past decade.

Copies of the book – the first printing is limited to 1,200 copies – will be distributed to about 300 libraries throughout North America. Visual artist, art critic and essayist Sky Glabush, wrote the introduction to the book.

“He is modern in the idealistic and avant-garde sense that Picasso is modern or in the promissory brightness of Kandinsky, or the utopian idealism of Mondrian,” writes Glabush.

“Rogers has often described his efforts in the studio as a form of worship. It is not as if his work is emulating prayer, or illustrating a spiritual state; rather, the act of painting itself, when striving towards perfection, becomes a form of devotion.”
Otto Donald Rogers at the November 7th Mirvish Books Launch of his new book “For Rogers, art is a supplication, the highest expression of which is unity.”

Widely recognized as one of Canada’s leading painters, Rogers’ legacy as a modernist figure in this country and abroad will be enhanced by the new book, said photographer, writer and educator Darius Himes, co-founder of Radius Books, which is dedicated to publishing books with broad artistic and cultural value.

Himes and Rogers met about 15 years ago while the two were serving at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. “I was a young photographer, someone who had just come out of art school, and he was very encouraging and influential in terms of getting me to think more about art and the effect of images,” said Himes.

About three years ago, the two reconnected and began talking about the creation of a “small catalogue.” The project grew to become a major book, and discussion is underway to produce additional books on Rogers’ work.

“Otto’s essay is actually quite monumental, in that it addresses some of things he has tried to address in his life over the last 45 years,” said Himes. “I love his work. There is a certain stillness in it, a meditative quality that is more about quietude. But there is also a great deal of dynamism in it, as well.

“The central issue for me in his approach is this idea of taking diverse elements and creating some sort of unity with them.” Himes summarized the artist’s staggering output, saying Rogers has mounted the equivalent of a solo exhibition each year for the past 45 years.

“And he has continued to evolve,” said Himes. “His work has become very dynamic.”

Having taught art for 30 years – encouraging countless aspiring young artists to pursue creative work – Rogers said he is himself a student of art.

“I just came back from New York, where I spent two weeks looking at art,” he said, “I came back with 35 books. I now have 1,200 books in my art library, and still I’m buying more.” Rogers lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

To learn more about the book visit Radius Books and look under Books, Fall 2007.

Egypt religious freedom cases continued to 22 January
CAIRO, 25 December 2007 (BWNS) — Court hearings on two lawsuits filed by Baha’is over the government’s policy on religious affiliation and national identity papers have been continued until 22 January 2008. The two cases, the first by the father of twin children who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them and the second by a college student who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university, had been set for “final judgment” by the Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo today.