Iran should immediately end practices aimed at barring Baha’i students from attending universities, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should quickly resolve the situation of some 800 Baha’i students whom it prevents from obtaining their educational records and completing the university admission process.

International Baha’i organizations and Baha’i students in Iran reported to Human Rights Watch that authorities at the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization have denied 800 Baha’i students access to their National Entrance Examination scores. The test is a national matriculation exam required for admission to Iran’s universities.

“This week, as universities begin the new academic year, hundreds of Iranian students will be absent from campuses because of blatant religious discrimination,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Students who have taken the National Entrance Examination can obtain their results and check the fields they are eligible to study on the website of the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization. In the past, the authorities published results in newspapers and made them accessible to the general public. The government shifted to an electronic format two years ago, making the test results available only to individual students checking their scores.

The 2007 National Entrance Examinations were administered on June 28-30, and the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization made the first results available on their site (www.sanjesh.org) on July 31.

This year, when some 800 students of the Baha’i faith logged on to the website, they received an error message informing them that their files were “incomplete.” Three of these students told Human Rights Watch that authorities at the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization did not respond to numerous phone calls and letters requesting clarification about why their test results were inaccessible.

Two other students who inquired in person to the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization office in Tehran told Human Rights Watch that officials said explicitly that they had been targeted because they were Baha’is. One student said that an official told him they had “received orders from above not to score the tests of Baha’i students.” Another student said that the official he spoke to suggested that he would be able to receive his test scores only if his family renounced their faith.

Iran is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which obligates it to make higher education equally accessible to all without discrimination. Iran is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 of which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

With an estimated 300,000 members, the Baha’i community is Iran’s largest religious minority. The Iranian government considers Baha’is to be apostates from Islam and does not recognize their faith as legitimate, unlike Iran’s Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian communities. Baha’is in Iran cannot practice their faith in a public manner.

Until 2004, the Iranian government required a declaration of religious affiliation on the application for the National University Entrance exam. The application included slots only for Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian students, effectively disqualifying Baha’i students. After the requirement was dropped in 2004, Baha’i students were able to participate in the exams, but their applications were rejected at later points in the admissions process until 2006, when over 200 Baha’i students were allowed to enter national universities.