Participants were asked to answer the questions: Is education a crime? What is Iran losing by not allowing Baha'is to higher education?
In collaboration with the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Ottawa, the Campus Association for Baha’i Studies (CABS) hosted a screening of the film To Light A Candle at the Jock Turcot Alumni auditorium on the University of Ottawa campus. The screening, which took place on the evening of February 26th 2015 and attracted approximately 200 people, was preceded by an explanation of the situation of the Baha’i religious minority in Iran, as well as a short story of the journey of a Baha’i family who fled persecution in their home country to settle in Ottawa, Canada. Following the screening, testimonials were given by Phyllis Perrakis, a former University of Ottawa English professor and current part-time professor at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, the underground Baha’i university in Iran, as well as Mozhgan Iranmanesh, an ex-student of the institute who was able to pursue a masters of education at the University of Ottawa thanks to the undergraduate degree she earned from BIHE.
The entire evening was part of the worldwide Education Is Not A Crime campaign that was co-created by Maziar Bahari, a Canadian-Iranian journalist and director of the film To Light A Candle, and that aims to raise awareness and solidarity for the Baha’i students in Iran who are denied the right to education based solely on their religious beliefs. In Iran, Baha’is are officially denied many rights of citizenship, including the right to run businesses, collect their pensions, hold positions in many industries, and most shockingly the right to pursue higher education. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, many Baha’is were kidnapped, tortured, and killed because of their religious affiliation. Today, over 100 Baha’is are in prison for their beliefs, among them are students and professors of BIHE, the underground Baha’i university started by academics and members of the Baha’i Faith in order to ensure the education of Iran’s Baha’i youth. In recent years, BIHE classrooms have been raided, equipment confiscated, and professors imprisoned for their efforts.
The Film: To Light A Candle
To light a candle is a documentary that provides insight into the religious and political history of the persecution of the members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran. Featured are rare collections of video footage and photographs as well as letters from imprisoned Baha’is and government documents. The story? How against all odds the Baha’is in Iran, with few numbers, have taken ownership of their right to education and have successfully created a widely recognized institution for higher education, and have graduated hundreds of students who have gone on to acquire graduate degrees from advanced universities around the world. The film features the lives of several Baha’is who have experienced first hand the brutality of the current regimes policies and practices.
Education Is Not A Crime: uOttawa
Professor Phyllis Perrakis: Mrs. Perrakis spoke about her experience as an online part-time teacher at BIHE. She described the challenges many Baha’i students in her class faced in Iran, including poor internet access, long travel times to reach study groups, and constant fear of being discovered by the government. She expressed great admiration for students who, unlike most of those in her classes in Ottawa, are very grateful for just having the opportunity to learn.
Mozhgan Iranmanesh: Mrs. Iranmanesh spoke about her younger years being enrolled in BIHE and detailed her journey from high school in Iran, to being enrolled in BIHE, to coming to Canada and starting a family. She recalled a moment in high school when she was talking with her friends about applying to different universities with great excitement, until she realized that she, as a Baha’i, would not be able to accompany her peers on the same path, despite her high grades. After graduating from BIHE, she was accepted to the masters of education program at the University of Ottawa, a field she said she pursued in order to assist the BIHE. The most heartbreaking part of her story came when she explained her experience visiting family in Evin Prison, a notorious detention center in Iran typically reserved for journalists and political dissidents.
Social Media: Facebook and twitter have been used in the past during the Education Under Fire and Can You Solve This? campaigns, both of which were aimed at raising awareness about the situation of Baha’is in Iran. With the help of Maziar Bahari and the amazing team at Education Is Not A Crime, supporters from around the world are spreading information on Facebook and Twitter about the plight of Baha’i students in Iran and how they can support them. Activists have also been tweeting world leaders making sure they do not forget about the brave souls who are suffering in Iran.
#educationisnotacrime trending on Facebook
#educationisnotacrime banner on an individuals Facebook profile
#educationisnotacrime trending on Twitter
Baha’i Institute for Higher Education
“The Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was founded in 1987 in response to the Iranian government's continuing campaign to deny Iranian Bahá'ís access to higher education. As its graduates excel in post graduate studies internationally, the BIHE's commitment to high academic standards, international collaboration, and an innovative teaching-learning environment is increasingly recognized. The BIHE offers 32 university-level programs across 5 faculties and continues to develop and deliver academic programs in Sciences, Engineering, Business & Management, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Faced with unrelenting religious persecution involving a wide range of human rights violations, including systematic denial of access to higher education, BIHE developed several unique features which have become its defining strengths. Courses delivered at the outset by correspondence for security reasons are now provided on-line, using leading-edge communication technologies. In addition, an affiliated global faculty (AGF) has been established comprised of hundreds of accredited professors from universities outside Iran who assist BIHE as researchers, teachers and consultants.
The need to create a new university for those who were denied access to higher education captivated the talents and minds of exceptional faculty and staff from within Iran. For twenty years they have dedicated their efforts to building an exemplary institution and cultivating a student body prepared for fulfilling careers, future study, and social responsibility. BIHE provides its students with the necessary knowledge and skills to not only persevere and succeed in their academic and professional pursuits, but to be active agents of change for the betterment of the world. These unique strengths of BIHE, together with the top-ranking marks of its students, have helped BIHE graduates secure graduate studies at close to 79 prestigious universities and colleges in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia (India).” (www.bihi.org, 2015)
University of Ottawa and Carleton University were some of the first universities that accepted credits from BIHE.
Education Is Not A Crime
“Iran’s government stops Baha’is from teaching or studying at public universities. But they do teach. And they do study.
The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was established in 1987 as an informal university to give young Baha’is a chance to learn. The BIHE followed a tradition of Baha’i educational initiatives that dates back to the 19th century – when the Baha’is opened some of Iran’s first modern schools.
The Baha’is are Iran’s largest religious minority. More than 200 Baha’is were executed between 1979 and 1987, after the Islamic revolution, and over 100 Baha’is are currently imprisoned because of their faith. The community was also periodically persecuted in the decades before the revolution. Baha’is today are still routinely harassed, denied livelihoods, arrested, and jailed on false charges.
The story of the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is, and the creation of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, are the subject of the film To Light a Candle, produced by the Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Maziar Bahari. The film uses personal stories and dramatic archival footage to explore the persecution of the Baha’is and the role of their peaceful resistance in Iran’s democratic movement.
To Light a Candle was just the beginning. A new campaign, Education is Not a Crime, features voices of support for Iran’s Baha’is from around the world. Educationisnotacrime.me is the nucleus of the campaign.
You can send a message to the Iranian government to stand up for the Baha’is. You can experience the story that led to this crisis.” (educationisnotacrime.me, 2015)
Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran
“Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha'is have been systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy. During the first decade of this persecution, more than 200 Baha'is were killed or executed, hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – all solely because of their religious belief.
Government-led attacks on the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority have re-intensified in the last decade. Since 2005, more than 700 Baha'is have been arrested, and the number of Baha'is in prison has risen from fewer than five to more than 100. The list of prisoners includes all seven members of a former leadership group serving the Baha'i community of Iran. In 2010, the seven were wrongly sentenced to 20 years in prison, which is the longest term currently facing any prisoner of conscience in Iran. The constant threat of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment is among the main features of Iran’s persecution of Baha’is today.
Other types of persecution include economic and educational discrimination, strict limits on the right to assemble and worship, and the dissemination of anti-Baha’i propaganda in the government-led news media. Attacks on Baha'is or Baha'i-owned properties go unprosecuted and unpunished, creating a sense of impunity for attackers. Since 2005, for example, there have been at least 49 incidents of arson against Baha’i properties, crimes for which no one has been arrested. During the same period, 42 incidents of vandalism at Baha’i cemeteries have been recorded. As noted recently by a top UN human rights official, the government-led persecution spans “all areas of state activity, from family law provisions to schooling, education, and security.”” (BIC United Nations Office, 2015)
Put another way: the oppression of Iranian Baha’is extends from cradle to grave.
Throughout the week of March 23rd, stuents at Carleton University worked diligently to raise awarnes about the situation of Baha'is in Iran through the Education Is Not A Crime campaign. Posters were placed across campus inviting people to share their thoughts and show support through social media, and to attend a screening of the film To Light A Candle. On Friday March 27th, ~100 academics, students, and members of the wider community gathered in the Tory buildings ornately decorated auditorium to hear testimonies of ex-BIHE students and to watch the documentary. The stories shared were truly touching and many tearful eyes could be seen in the audience. The feeling of community support was very strong and we would like to thank everyone who has supported the campaign over the past few months!
360 Tory Building auditorium
Posters placed around campus