Rights groups says Iran barring Baha'is from study

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LONDON, Sep 20 (Reuters) A US-based rights group called on Iran today to end measures that bar university access to members of the Baha'i faith, an offshoot of Islam considered by Iran's Shi'ite Muslim establishment to be heresy.

In Tehran, Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment but the government regularly says all Iranians, regardless of creed, enjoy the same rights.

''Iran should immediately end practices aimed at barring Baha'i students from attending universities,'' New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

''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,'' it said, citing complaints from Baha'i students and groups.

Baha'is regularly say they face discrimination and persecution in the Islamic Republic, which is overwhelmingly Shi'ite Muslim.

The Baha'i faith originated in Iran 150 years ago and Baha'i groups say it has 5 million adherents worldwide, including an estimated 300,000 or more in Iran.

The Iranian authorities expelled almost almost 70 students over the last academic year after discovering they were Baha'is, the Baha'i International Community said in February.

''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.

About 800 Baha'i students were not able to access results to national tests taken in June on a new electronic system and have thus not been admitted to universities, the rights group said.

Several Baha'i students told the rights group that appeals to the authorities had been ignored and two were told it was because they were Baha'is, Human Rights Watch said.

Baha'is say hundreds of their faith have been jailed and executed since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. The government denies it has detained or executed people for their faith.

Reuters SKB GC1528

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