Irish universities could provide moral support to the persecuted Bahá'i community in Iran through recognising their third-level qualifications, a meeting in Galway has heard.
"Such recognition would not take much courage, and would be symbolic of Ireland's support for the right to education on human rights and health grounds," retired medical professional Dr Sean Conroy said.
Dr Conroy was speaking in Salthill, Galway in support of an international campaign to highlight the treatment of Iranian Bahá’is, a religious minority whose members have been imprisoned, tortured and killed since the 1979 revolution.
The 'Education is not a Crime' campaign, endorsed by Nobel peace prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, focuses on the fact that Bahá'is are banned from attending third-level education in Iran.
A documentary, entitled
To Light a Candle
, screened in a number of Irish locations and globally this past weekend focuses on the work of an underground university, the Bahá’i Higher Institute of Education (BIHE).
It was made by Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari who is not a Bahá'i but was imprisoned in Iran in 2009.
Founded in 1987, BIHE educates students to diploma and degree level in spite of repeated raids and the arrest and imprisonment of some of its lecturers.
Dr Sahar Rahmani, whose parents and grandparents have lived in Ireland since they were forced to leave Iran over 30 years ago, said education formed a cornerstone of the Bahá'i faith.
“Silence is not the answer, conversation is,” she said, appealing to the public to use social media in support of the campaign for educational freedom.
The Government had been supportive of the community, she said, through passage of a series of international resolutions.
The Bahá’i fellowship has over seven million followers in over 270 countries, with over 1,000 on the island of Ireland.
Bahá’i assembly member Brendan McNamara is on the Department of Foreign Affairs-non governmental organisation standing committee for human rights.
In the US, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Columbia have accepted students who have studied at the BIHE, while other universities have accepted its students on further course work.
“We had our own hedge schools at a time when we didn’t have freedom of education, and Ireland should recognise this ‘hedge’ university,” Dr Conroy said, noting that education is the “single biggest determinant of health”.
Dáil leas-cheann comhairle and Fianna Fáíl TD for Galway East Michael Kitt was among those attending the event in Galway.