Veteran University of St. Thomas professor Cheri Shakiban taught an uncommon statistics class five years ago: Her 25 students logged on to online lectures from across Iran, which Shakiban left decades ago.

This February, Shakiban and others in the small Twin Cities expatriate community of Iranian Baha'is are pitching in for a national campaign to highlight the higher education restrictions that members of their religion face in Iran. Shakiban will talk about teaching at the underground Baha'i Institute of Higher Education on a Feb. 23 Eden Prairie panel.

The "Education Is Not a Crime" campaign, at, will feature screenings of "To Light a Candle," a documentary by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, the subject of the recent Jon Stewart movie "Rosewater."

"In the Baha'i faith, we are encouraged to get as much education as we can," said Shakiban. "We believe education will help bring peace to this planet."

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have decried persecution of Baha'is, the largest religious minority in Iran, from which the faith emerged in the 19th century. Minoo Khodarahmi, a University of Minnesota student, says hurdles to accessing higher education were the main reason she left Iran. Unlike two older sisters, she got to take the national college entrance exam, but was rejected on technicalities twice.

Shakiban says the local Iranian Baha'i community of about 100 is active. Members, with help from the U's Baha'i Club, hosted a well-attended event last year featuring Roxana Saberi, the U.S. journalist who wrote a memoir about her detention in Iran. They are also lobbying the U to recognize degrees from the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education.

Khodarahmi is helping put on a film screening and panel at Normandale Community College Feb. 25.

"We are encouraged to bring this injustice to light," she said. "It's been going on for a long, long time."

Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781