By Joe Tash
San Diego County residents who belong to the Baha’i faith are trying to raise awareness of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, where the government forbids them from receiving a university education.
The local Baha’is are holding a series of screenings of a 30-minute documentary, called “Education Under Fire,” which was co-sponsored by Amnesty International.
The next screening, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 2-3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Ocean Air Recreation Center, 4770 Fairport Way, Carmel Valley, 92130.
The prohibition against higher education is only one way the Baha’i are persecuted in Iran, said Schahrzade Rezvani of Carlsbad, who left her native Iran for the United States in 1980, just after the Islamic revolution toppled the Shah.
Baha’is are not allowed to hold office or work for the government, and even private companies can face pressure for employing them, she said.
“Baha’is in Iran are deprived of life and liberty of any kind,” she said.
In order to provide college-level courses to young people in Iran, the Baha’i community set up the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, an underground university that holds classes online, in private homes and other locations, said Rezvani.
Over the years, the government has raided BIHE locations, seizing computers and textbooks and arresting teachers and administrators. One such sweep took place in 2011, when about 30 locations were raided, and more than a dozen arrests were made, she said.
A campaign to put pressure on the government of Iran includes a website, www.educationunderfire.com, where people can order free copies of the documentary, and sign an online open letter that will be sent to Iranian officials.
Rezvani said the Baha’is are the largest religious minority group in Iran. They and their supporters are asking that Iran honor international human rights protocols, which it has signed, by allowing the group to participate freely in higher education.
“Leave them alone, allow them to continue their endeavors,” said Rezvani, who teaches online business classes through BIHE, and also works as chief human resources officer for a local company.
The campaign also advocates for the release of BIHE instructors and administrators, some of whom have been given long prison sentences simply for their role in providing higher education for Baha’i youth in Iran, Rezvani said.
“We need them to be released. We are asking the government of Iran to release the members of the Baha’i administration and to ease actions against students and administrators,” she said.
Launched in Iran in the 1800s, Baha’i is one of the youngest of the world’s independent religions. The central message of its founder, Bahá’u’lláh, is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification into one global society, according to the faith’s official website, bahai.org.
The website said some 5 million people worldwide follow the Baha’i faith, and Rezvani said there are about 2,000 Baha’i in San Diego County.
For more information, visit www.educationunderfire.com.