We recently came to learn of “Baha’i Watch“, a website that uses the Ushahidi mapping tool to track and document incidents of violations against the rights of Baha’is of Iran. We contacted Brian Herbert, the brains behind the project, and he kindly agreed to provide us with more information about it.

Background
The Ushahidi project began in January 2008 during the post-election violence in Kenya. This was a tool that allowed citizens in the country there to stay abreast of the incidents going on around them. Users would contribute to the system by sending in SMS (text message) reports or by logging into the website. After things settled down in Kenya and the Ushahidi project formalized as a tool that could be deployed in other countries for future crisis and disaster situations, I signed up as a volunteer developer.

Baha’i Watch
This brings me to Baha’i Watch. I have been monitoring the situation of Baha’is in Iran for some time now primarily via the “Persecution of Baha’is in Iran” blog operated by the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly in the US.  Essentially, any time there was a report of the government or an individual committing some kind of persecution (act of violence, vandalism, etc) or peace actions that could be pin-pointed on the map, it was added.

Why is it useful, and who is it intended for?
I find that by looking at this map of Iran where one can visualize the problem, it’s much easier to gain an appreciation for what is going on there. I have personally found it to be much more effective than sending them to a blog or a random news article. Because of this, Baha’i Watch has found an audience on the outside, looking in.

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Live Reporting
Ushahidi is really meant for the ones in the thick of it. Essentially, up to the minute updates are Ushahidi’s bread and butter and it’s primarily driven by user submitted SMS updates and alerts. One of the biggest benefits to making this happen is that Baha’is in Iran will be able to get updates on their mobile phones when incidents occur around the country. Another, less challenging hurdle we are having is getting Ushahidi translated into Farsi.  Once these challenges are overcome, Baha’i Watch will be very useful for the Baha’is who have to deal with the persecution there on a frequent basis.

Get involved

So, how can individuals get involved? Users can submit reports! We can also use help on any of the challenges outlined above. If someone speaks fluent Farsi and wants to help with a translation, they can get in touch with me at the email address below. Also, if anyone knows of an organization willing to lend some technical support inside the country, they let us know. We can be reached at unity[at]bahaiwatch[dot]com.