Heading to a protest in Irvine, for the people of Iran.
Heading to a protest in Irvine, for the people of Iran.
Photo by Christopher Victorio

Irvine Protesters Fear Reprisals for Relatives in Iran

Daniel B. Wood of the Christian Science Monitor spent some time with Iranian-Americans in Irvine over the weekend and discovered while they want to expose atrocities taking place in their homeland to the world, they fear speaking out too boldly will lead to repercussions against relatives who remain there.

Interviews with Iranian-Americans at a rally here Saturday offered a glimpse into their hopes and fears in these tense days. Some of them fled Iran during the revolution and were afraid to give their names, concerned about retaliation by pro-mullah groups in California against their relatives in Iran. Many were so upset they couldn't speak or were interrupted by tears. Some told graphic stories of friends and relatives tortured or killed in the past few years.

And all were thankful for the opportunity, however brief, to tell the world about the regime in Iran. A press conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel here included a "Wall of Shame" that displayed graphic photos of violent repression in Iran going back 30 years.

"We are just trying to get help for a very, very bad situation," said Suzy Yashar, who was an actress when she left Iran in 1978 and who is now an activist for the Iranian Woman's Organization and also hosts a one-hour daily program on Channel One TV. "There is a massacre going on there, and it will be another Holocaust unless we get the people of free democracies everywhere to stand beside the people of Iran ... not the government but the people in the streets who need their support."

Protesters at a previous rally in Irvine were boisterous, as shown in Christopher Victorio's slideshow of the demonstration. However, there were concerns expressed about the waving of flags many associate with the equally despised Shah of Iran's monarchy.  

Wood spoke with Maziar Mafi, a Laguna Beach lawyer and Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged then 47th Congressional District Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) in 2000--before Cox departed to lead (and leave in shambles) the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under George W. Bush. Mafi revealed he received death threats during that campaign--here in Orange County--after he compared Ayatollah Khomeini to the Shah.

Because there are people in Iran, the U.S. and even OC close to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keeping close tabs on the protesters in the streets of Irvine, Mafi is trying to remain cautious. Yes, he monitors the situation in Iraq from his home of 30 years and helped draft a preliminary Iranian Bill of Rights in the hope of regime change, but as he stays in contact with 70 relatives in Iran via phone, he does not encourage political discussions.

And, unlike Bill Bennett and Fox News, which have called on President Barack Obama to speak out more vigorously against the Iranian government, Mafi advises allowing the situation to play out without too much intervention from Western democracies. It's not up to John McCain to decide which regime represents Iranians. "This situation is for the kids of Iran to decide how they will rebel," Mafi tells Wood. "They are the ones who are paying with their blood." 


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