Amnesty International and the Middle Eastern Student Association hosted a screening of the documentary “To Light a Candle” along with a question-and-answer session with experts in the field of Middle Eastern studies Feb. 24 at the Sadler Center.
The documentary is part of the Education is Not a Crime campaign, which fights for Iranian Baha’is’ rights to education.
“The Baha’is are the largest religious minority in Iran, and despite this [they] have been persecuted by the Iranian government through execution, torture, imprisonment, and the loss of many rights,” event organizer and Amnesty International member Sara Johnson ’17 said in an email. “Notably, the campaign focuses on education and the fact that Baha’is are banned from studying or teaching at any of the public universities in the country.”
To provide an education for the Baha’i people, the community founded the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education in 1987.
The BIHE consists of an underground network of students and teachers who study online via correspondence or in clandestine sessions at individuals’ homes or other unconventional spaces.
Despite the danger surrounding the BIHE, hundreds of volunteers enable the network to remain operational.
“Someone says ‘I can give a pot of soup for the children,’” Dr. Haideh Sabet, one of the question-and-answer panelists, said. “Some say ‘I can be the driver to take them to the classes.’ Some say ‘I can be the person sitting at the door in case a guard comes in.’ Every single person is contributing in their own effective way that has continued the success of this institute, and that will allow it to continue to grow.”
Around 90 to 100 universities worldwide recognize BIHE diplomas, meaning that many students are able to gain entrance into master’s programs following their time with the BIHE.
Panelist Mohebat Ahdiyyih, senior expert of Iranian Affairs for the U.S. government, offered one explanation as to why the Iranian government does not want Baha’is to receive an education.
“The Baha’i were so successful in business until the [Islamic] Revolution happened, and one of the reasons they don’t want Baha’is to go back to universities is exactly that,” he said. “They don’t want an enlightened group of people to exist that could help the whole nation.”
Moving forward, the Education is Not a Crime campaign will continue to appeal to world leaders on behalf of the Baha’i people.
According to panelist Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy and research for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the possibility of change led by the Iranian people themselves is uncertain.
“There’s a growing population that knows what the truth is, but do they have an appetite to go back to the streets?” Bashir said. “The Iranian government has made it clear that it’s going to crack down in a way we haven’t seen before, so it’s not that simple anymore.”