In an effort to bring international pressure to a country abound with religious persecution, local Baha’i students are taking action.
Tonight at 6:30 in Geidt Hall, the Davis Baha’i Club (DBC) will be holding an information and prayer session about their fellow Baha’is in Iran. The club, composed of 100 members, hopes to educate the Davis community about Iran and the political and social turmoil within the country.
“Baha’is in Iran are being denied their basic rights,” said Ariana Hosseini, a sophomore neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and member of the DBC. “If anyone says anything against the government, they end up in prison.“
Currently, the DBC is concerned about the Iranian government’s imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders who have been accused of spying for Israel. The students have been sending letters to members of Congress urging them to protest the theocracy in Iran, which denies members of the Baha’i faith the right to an education.
The Baha’i religion originated 200 years ago with the spiritual leader Bahá’u’lláh, whom followers believe carried the messages of unity and equality. The religion’s relative youth is why a theocratic country such as Iran will not credit Baha’i as legitimate, as most Muslims believe that there is no prophet after Mohammed. There are approximately 300,000 Baha’i in Iran.
“In the U.S. we’re used to freedom of religion, but in Iran they don’t view that as legitimate,” said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, who has visited Iran twice to collaborate with universities on a potential exchange program. “We never approve of prejudice, but in our case, that doesn’t negate the fact that we won’t try to crack the door open on Iran in the form of communication. It’s a small step, but that’s how it is when you start from zero.“
The DBC arranged a meeting with Vanderhoef earlier this month to discuss his visits to Iran, of which he said were quite different since the change in presidency in the country. Several members of the DBC, some from Iran, held a discussion about the injustices to the Baha’i people.
“He’s being smart about how he handles his diplomacy in Iran,” said Camilia Yavrom, president of the DBC and senior managerial economics major. “At the meeting we could see that he’s acquiring a lot of knowledge about the Iranian people.“
At the meeting with Vanderhoef, the DBC brought up the persecution of Baha’is and other minorities and in particular, the inability of those students to attend universities. Vanderhoef has been working on setting up an exchange program between Iranian and U.S. universities.
“Our view is that universities should be able to talk to universities,” Vanderhoef said. “We all do research, we all teach, and we’re all trying to get our research out into the world.“
In response, the DBC urged the chancellor to allow Baha’i students priority to attend UC Davis, since the government in Iran restricts the higher education of Baha’i people.
“With the actions in past week, it’s clear to the entire world that Iran is acting immaturely with the Baha’is,” Yavrom said. “The best thing we can do as students is to stay informed and pray for the best outcome.“
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.