A four-member panel put on by the Portland Baha’i community at Portland State on Friday, July 10, recruited an audience of about 50 people.
The panel discussion took place in the Multicultural Center on the date marking the one-year anniversary of the imprisonment of Baha’i leaders.
In Iran, the Baha’i are singled out for religious persecution because their religion postdates the Muslim faith, and imprisonment and execution are possible consequences of practicing Baha’i. As a result, a professed Baha’i and seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community are facing that reality in a Tehran prison.
One of the panelists at the event was Merat Bagha, who came to the United States in 1978 just before the revolution. While he studied at Oregon State University, his mother, a Baha’i, was arrested and held in the same prison where the seven Baha’i leaders reside currently.
“In 1982 she was given a sham trial, found guilty and then executed,” Bagha said. “Her only offense was being Baha’i.”
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull, an administrator of a health board that serves American Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest, a published author and member of the Baha’i faith, was one of the panel attendees.
“We need to gather in groups like this, large and small, to bring international awareness to this issue,” Left Hand Bull said. “International awareness and attention is what has allowed the prisoners to remain safe thus far.”
The Baha’i discourage participating in partisan politics, and Left Hand Bull said that because of this belief, Baha’i are not represented in the Iranian government and others are needed to advocate for their rights.
“Of all people, [the Baha’i] have suffered dreadfully over the last 30 years. It is worse than ever now,” she said.
Also imprisoned are many students who were arrested in the protests against the outcome of the country’s recent presidential election.
John Ng, another panelist, is an associate professor at the Oregon Health and Sciences University and an active member of Health for Humanity, an organization run by the Baha’i and aimed at promoting health throughout the world.
As a way to get involved, Ng suggested contacting government representatives and encouraging them to address the issue of human rights by favoring House Resolution 175 and Senate Resolution 71, which declare support for the Iranian Baha’i.
Panelist Dr. Mike Balter, an adjunct professor at PSU who has managed welfare and mental health services for children and families for 40 years, said “We also need to change our perspectives and find spiritual solutions to problems like this.”