LOS ANGELES (AP) — Painful memories of a violent and chaotic past were resurrected this week for many Iranian Americans who watched from afar as protesters flooded the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities following the death of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, 22, died on September 16 while in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s morality police, who accused her in part of violating the country’s strict hair code by improperly wearing the veil, which is mandatory for all Iranian women.
His death has sparked outrage across Iran and waves of protesters clashed with Iranian security forces this week.
Some women defiantly burned their headscarves as a sign of resistance and opposition to the morality police and the broader social repression in the country. State television suggested the death toll from this week’s demonstrations could be as high as 26. The Associated Press reportsalthough the exact count remains unclear as Iran tightens its grip on state-owned media.
The deadly riots have been documented on social media and sparked demonstrations in other parts of the world, including in Los Angeles, home to the largest Iranian population outside of Iran.
“My heart goes out to the family of Mahsa Amini and all the other countless women who have suffered violence in Iran,” said Sasha Gladkikh, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of the school’s Iranian student group.
Gladkikh was born and raised in Southern California after her family fled Iran in the 1990s. Her mother follows the Baha’i faith, which teaches the value of all religions. Practitioners are routinely persecuted in Iran and increasingly face raids, arrests and land seizures, according to Amnesty International.
At 19, Gladkikh is only three years younger than Amini. Seeing what happened to Amini makes Gladkikh feel even more “privileged” to have grown up in a free democracy and attended a top university as a woman. Now, she is adding her voice to a growing global chorus of young people who want to exercise her freedom to choose how to live, and she helped organize a vigil Thursday night at UCLA for Amini, a Kurdish woman from the west. from Iran.
Iranian authorities are investigating after they said Amini had a pre-existing condition and suffered a heart attack while in custody. Amini’s family denies this, saying witnesses told them police had beaten her. She was taken to the hospital and she died days later.
“The Iranian people have reached a boiling point,” Gladkikh said. “When your own country has been extremely oppressive and you are constantly being oppressed, you have nothing more to lose.”
Another student and member of the UCLA Iranian student group said she was encouraged by the hundreds of people who gathered at the vigil to share a moment of silence for Amini.
The outcast student, who asked that her last name not be used out of concerns about her personal safety when she travels to Iran, said she has cousins who want to protest, but her parents warn them: “’You protest and you may die. It’s not the same as in United States'”.
A few miles down the street from the UCLA campus, restaurant owner Roozbeh Farahanipour recalled being beaten and tortured in his native Tehran, the capital, from which he fled in 1999 after facing an execution order for his anti-government activism. He was a young journalist at the time and founder of the Glorious Frontier Party, which advocated democracy and secularism in an increasingly fundamentalist Iran.
“I have not forgotten my homeland. I will always be a freedom fighter.”
Roozbeh Farahanipur SAID
Now in his 50s, Farahanipour still has a slight limp and limited range of motion in his neck as a result of injuries sustained during his torture, he said. He estimates that his family lost about 20 members during the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s, which ushered in a new era of social, political and religious extremism that continues to haunt many former citizens who fled the country. since then.
“I have not forgotten my homeland,” he said from inside his restaurant, Persian Gulf. “I will always be a freedom fighter.”
Farahanipour continues to advise the new generations of political activists who use social networks and secure applications such as Skype and Signal. Since Amini’s death last week, he said she has heard dozens of young Iranians ask for advice “almost daily” on what to do if they are arrested by authorities.
He tells them that the most important act is to work as a team and always have an escape route.
“When things get hot like now, I’m on my devices all the time,” he said. “People are not afraid. They are so brave.”
On Wednesday, Farahanipour joined hundreds of protesters outside a federal building in West Los Angeles, near the heart of the enclave known as Tehrangeles. The bustling neighborhood is packed with Persian signs, restaurants, markets, and other businesses that cater to the thriving Iranian-American population.
Farahanipour’s restaurant, Persian Gulf, serves as something of a memorial to Iran’s ongoing political and religious tensions. American flags are displayed alongside Iran’s lion-and-sun flag, which predates Islamic rule and which Farahanipour calls “the true flag of Iran.”
The current flag, adopted after the Islamic Revolution, “represents the Nazis,” Farahanipour said.
“I have no feeling for that flag other than hate,” he added. “Freedom has a cost and the Iranian people are willing to pay it. It is the Islamic Republic against the Iranian people.”
The tensions in Iran come at a sensitive time for the United States as it seeks to revive a 2015 nuclear pact brokered by the Obama administration but abandoned by then-President Donald Trump.
Speaking Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York, President Joe Biden said the United States would make sure Iran does not build a nuclear arsenal while acknowledging street protests escalating there.
“We stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are speaking out right now to secure their basic rights,” Biden said.
In a country where television and radio stations are already state-controlled and journalists regularly face the threat of arrest, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards on Thursday urged the Iranian judiciary to prosecute “anyone spreading false news and rumours” in Iran. social media about the riots. Widespread outages of Instagram and WhatsApp, which are used by protesters, also continued on Thursday.
On Friday, the US Treasury Department he said he would give guidance on how he will make exceptions to expand internet access in Iran despite US sanctions on the country.
The sanctions remain a point of contention for Iranian Americans who have family there, with some arguing that the sanctions are undermining pro-democracy protesters and anti-government activists.
“We have crippled activists and humanitarian workers who have to work four or five jobs to put food on the table because the Iranian economy has gotten so weak,” said Hanieh Jodat, political activist, founding member of the Women’s March Los Angeles and delegate. to the Assembly of the California Democratic Party.
Sepi Shyne, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, said she has been unable to contact relatives, including aunts and cousins, in Iran because of the blackouts.
“I am very worried, not only for my relatives, but also for all the people in Iran,” Shyne said. “I am worried about women, about young people. They need all of us to be their voices right now.”
Shyne, 45, said Amini’s death is taking a toll on Iranian-American women, particularly at a time when sexual and reproductive rights in the US are being challenged and overturned in court, that forces women here to assert more of their authority over their bodies.
“We have seen other small demonstrations against the Islamic regime and its corruption,” he said, “but this is like a fire that will be very difficult for the government to put out. I think women, even in America, are under such attack right now that this is like a dragon being released.”
Alicia Victoria Lozano reported from Los Angeles, and Daniel Arkin and Erik Ortiz from New York.