To Light a Candle, a documentary about the Baha’is in Iran produced in 2014, was today translated and shared online in Spanish for the first time. The film is available on IranWire Espagnol’s YouTube channel.
The film, by IranWire founder and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, highlights the determination of Baha’is to pursue further education despite the Iranian government denying them access to higher education.
Iran’s Baha’i community is the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. More than 200 Baha’is were executed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and in the 1980s, with the Cultural Revolution, Baha’i students and professors were expelled from all Iranian universities. Today almost every Baha’i who applies to university is rejected – even after receiving excellent marks on national entrance exams – and those Baha’is who are admitted to higher education are usually expelled.
Bahari’s film uses a combination of interviews, personal stories and dramatic archival footage – often smuggled out at great personal risk – to explore how the Iranian authorities have systematically abused the Baha’is and prevented them from pursuing higher education.
To Light a Candle also highlights how the Baha’is have refused to accept these attempts to deny them access to universities by setting up their own informal or underground university – called the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE).
The Iranian activist Omid Alishenas, who was arrested in 2014, was charged in part with owning and sharing copies of To Light a Candle with other Iranians.
The BIHE was established by a group of Baha’i academics and professors in 1987 to give young Baha’is students a chance to pursue higher educaiton. Now the BIHE’s credentials are recognized around the world and some of its graduates have undertaken postgraduate work at leading global universities.
Payam Akhavan, an international human rights lawyer, explained at a London premiere for the film, in 2014, that the plight of the Baha’is is a problem not just for the Baha’is themselves but the whole of Iranian society. He added that the Islamic Republic used the Baha’is as scapegoats to legitimize their own tactics.
“In order to justify the widespread repression in Iranian society, an enemy needed to be constructed and this fell on the Baha’is,” Akhavan said. “And although slowly some ayatollahs are beginning to express solidarity with the Baha’is, they are still being abused. The conception of the Baha’is that the regime has put together is based on paranoia and hatred and has nothing to do with the reality of the Baha’i faith and community.”
Bahari said in 2014 that “Most young Iranians today have Baha’i friends, despite the fact the government continues to harass them and portray them in the same negative light. For me, and this is one of the reasons I wanted to make this documentary, the Baha’is are a barometer for what’s going on in Iran.” He added that “If the country opens up a little, perhaps through a reformist government, the Baha’is are given certain freedoms. When society is more repressed, it’s the Baha’is who are the first victims.”