Last week, Aziz Samandari, a 40-year old professor from Tehran, was awarded the Supreme Commitment Award by New Zealand’s Parliament, an honor recognizing his work in technology and higher education. Samandari, however, was not present to accept his award. He was, instead, in a cramped 2×3 meter cell in Iran’s ill-reputed Evin Prison, where he is serving a 5-year sentence.

In 2010, Samandari, representing the BIHE, had entered the Global Enterprise Experience (GEE), a business competition hosted by Victoria University in New Zealand. A few months later,  Samandari was arrested in his home by Iranian security officials on charges of “active membership… in the misguided Baha’i sect” and communicating with foreigners, an accusation that referenced his participation in the competition. The Iranian Revolutionary Court handed down his sentence in October of 2011, after a quick 10-minute trial in which Samandari was only asked one question regarding his faith. His involvement in the BIHE was leveraged as evidence against him as was his contribution to the GEE.

“The Global Enterprise Experience competition means a lot to students worldwide and for some participation can even be risky,” said Deb Gilbertson, an organizer of the competition, “In Aziz’u’llah’s case he has been imprisoned for the very things that we are celebrating in this contest—getting an education and working in partnership across cultures.”

Bahman Samandari, Aziz Samandari’s father, a founder of the BIHE.

The BIHE, an underground school for members of the Baha’i faith in Iran, exists to mitigate the disastrous effects Iran’s policy of denying openly religious Baha’is access to higher education. Samandari’s father, Bahman Samandari, was one of BIHE’s founders — he was arrested in March of 1992, accused of being a spy and committing adultery, and executed the next day. In his work for the BIHE, Aziz Samandari had been honoring his father’s death by continuing the tradition of resistance through education and knowledge. Kazem Samandari, Bahman’s son, said the Iranian regime was perpetuating its own tradition of Baha’i persecution by arresting Aziz Samandari for the same crimes of his father.

“History repeats itself in a cruel manner,” said Kazem Samadari, “Aziz is being jailed arbitrarily in Evin exactly twenty years after his own father, Bahman Samandari – my brother – was summarily hanged for his religious beliefs in the same prison on 18 March 1992. The body of my brother was never returned to our family. We only received a hand written note from him saying he refused to recant his Faith.”

Prior to his October 2011 arrest, Samandari had been arrested once before. He had been one of six arrested in a series of raids on the homes of 11 Baha’is and taken to Evin Prison. His cousin, Caroline Samandari, wrote in The Indian Express at the time that no formal charges had been made and that he had been denied access to a lawyer or family visits.

“As I try to internalise the news of the arrest of Aziz, I am surprised at my own feelings,” she wrote, “I… cannot find in my heart any trace of hatred or of willingness to seek revenge against those who have so systematically persecuted my family and all the other members of the Bahai community in Iran. I also refuse to blame Islam, even for a second, for what is being done supposedly in its name.”