Writing in The Huffington Post, Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu and Jose Ramos-Horta note:
Freedom of education and freedom of information are integral to freedom of thought. Few advances have been made for humankind which were not preceded by new ways of looking at our world and new schools of thought. So it is particularly shocking when despots and dictators in the twenty-first century attempt to subjugate their own populations by attempting to deny education or information to their people.
In an unprecedented moment in the long struggle for religious freedom of Iran’s Baha’i minority, Tutu and Ramos-Horta have addressed an open letter to the international academic community. The letter seeks to inform and mobilize academics to support the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) which has come under increasing pressure from the Iranian government. This includes the recent arrest of the lawyer who was going to defend Baha’is arrested for participating as educators of the BIHE. It is the policy of the current regime to deny access to higher education to Baha’is solely because of their religious beliefs.
The letter provides historical background about the BIHE, which was a non-violent, non-political response to this discriminatory policy. It specifically calls upon academics to show their support through several possible actions, including: calling on the government of the Iranian Republic to drop charges related to their educational activities filed against BIHE educators and release them unconditionally.
The letter also urges academic leaders, administrators and professors to register in the Iranian academic community their disagreement with and disapproval of any policy which would bar individuals from higher education based on their religious background or political persuasion, or which would remove or corrupt any established fields of study from a university curriculum for religious or political reasons.
The open letter is part of a larger campaign that will include showings of a 30 minute documentary about the BIHE in several cities throughout the United States. The Baha’i Faith was founded in Iran in the mid-19th century and Baha’is represent the largest religious minority in the country. Since its inception, the Baha’i community of Iran has faced relentless persecution including harassment, arrests, executions and destruction of gravesites.