OC Iranians Celebrate 75th Int’l Human Rights Day with Calls for Justice

Two weeks ago, Orange County Iranian activists celebrated the 75th anniversary of International Human Rights Day with ringing calls for justice in Iran. For various reasons, publication was delayed until today while what you find below was assembled; I’ll add some of my own thoughts — suffused with respect, rooted in worries — at the end.

I’ll start by swiping this from the Facebook page of OC Iranian activist Sudi Farokhnia, who has been involved in planning an event both celebrating the 75th anniversary of International Human Rights Day and protesting the current regime that has abused the lives, personal safety, and human rights and of Iranian women and their allies. This rally — and calls for regime change — was keyed to the death (and credible sources say murder) of an Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Zhina Amini, by the so-called “Guidance Patrol” (“Morality Police”) because she was wearing her hijab in a way that they asserted showed too much hair. (“Zhina” was her Kurdish name, which the Iranian government would not allow onto her birth certificate. We’ll refer to her as “Amini” here.) See this Wikipedia page for the story of the death of Amini and the protests following it, from September 16 through the present.

Let’s start out with some context.

The link to which the QR Code would take you is here; check it out!

The following report on the day’s event comes from Farokhnia:

The Iranian American community of Orange County in collaboration with “Social Compassion”, a non-profit organization based in Laguna Beach, held the commemoration rally in honor of the year long celebration of 75th anniversary of Human Rights Day. Two grassroots local organizing groups of “OC Iranians United” and “Hambastegi Movement” championed this effort in recognition of the struggle for preserving human rights across the globe and to encourage allyship by the greater community of Southern California with the Iranian American community and their effort in amplifying the voices of using in Iran.

Pacific Coast Highway was backed up from the start of the Main Beach, blaring with the sounds of cars honking in support of the rally and attendees holding signs and chanting in support of human rights. Flags from countries all over the world waved in the wind and posters with the faces of activists and people who had been wrongly persecuted, detained, assaulted and/or murdered were held up in defiance of the oppressors. Laguna Beach was buzzing with the passion of thousands of people looking and fighting for justice. 

This event featured esteemed speakers and live music performances by local artists. The speakers in order of Appearance were: Judie Mancuso (Founder of Social Compassion/CA Assembly Candidate), Bob Whalen (Mayor Pro Tem, Laguna Beach), Alex Rounaghi (newly elected city council member of Laguna Beach and first Iranian American elected to the council), Dom Jones (Social Advocate, Health & Wellness Professional and Motivational Speaker), Elahe Amani (Peace and Women Rights Activist and President of Women Intercultural Network), Dr. Soraya Fallah (Author, Researcher, Kurdish Human Rights Activists), Najiba Ayubi (Afghan Journalist and Human Rights Activist), Professor Jane K. Stoever (UCI :School of Law, Director of Domestic Violence Law Clinic), Sadaf Rahmani (Public Affairs Director at Planned Parenthood OC and San Bernardino), Dr. Wen Chen (Scientist, Member of Amnesty International, Expert in Human Rights Movement in China ), Chelsea Hart (International Comedian and Performer from Alaska), and Sara Syed (International Human Rights Lawyer, Actor and Modern Activist). Performances were provided by: Gilgamesh Art & Cultural Foundation, Caseden Simonson, and Dariush Morid,

Every speech highlighted the need for prioritizing human rights and peace in all policy making and political negotiations, the result of the negligence of global community, and desire of all nations to live in peace and harmony and not allow talks about trades and economy destroy lives.

Sara Syed — co-chair of the newly formed opposition group called the “Iran Democracy Council” — provided the closing remarks. Her remarks included several demands — the careful (and highly insightful) work of this group of lawyers and policy advocates — addressed to President Biden.

We need to:

● Create targeted and impactful sanctions on the regime and its affiliates

● Designate the leader of the Islamic republic of Iran and government as a regime that has engaged in gross human rights violations and terrorism

● Expand Human Rights Sanctions on Law Enforcement and security Forces, the Basij and IRGC commanders, political and judicial players supportive of the crackdowns at the regional and national level.

● Freeze AND seize US based assets of these individuals—creating a funding source to provide relief to victims of human right violations in Iran and their families.

● Create measures that combat censorship in Iran including support efforts to provide the Iranian people access to uncensored internet. Iranians rely on social media applications, and mobile communications to organize as well as share information.

● Incentivize technology companies.

● Providing cyber support.

● Support Labour strikes, from petrochemical sectors to education , and agents of democracy .

● Approve emergency supplemental appropriations and contribute to an International Humanitarian fund.

● Pressure Iran Diplomatically with every soft lever at our disposal.”

The powerful speeches, amazing art in activism, and participation of residents of Southern California are captured here. I encourage everyone to watch the program and share it widely within your circle. 

Some photos of the rally:

Mahsa Zhina Amini, the murdered woman, is visible in the sign held at the upper left.

The Protesters shown here were displaying not the official flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the ancient Sun and Lion flag that has been used for over a millennium. (Under the Pahlavi Dynasty, of which Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the ruler deposed by the revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, a crown was added to the emblem, but that was not the flag used by these protesters. See this page for more on Persia/Iran’s flags.)

The flags flown here convey a sense of the themes that protesters emphasized. The American flag was flown along with the Ukrainian flag — the Iranian government has, notoriously, provided Russia with weapons to use in the attack on Ukraine. The slogan “Say Her Name” is adopted from the protests in the mid-2010s, perhaps most prominently that of Sandra Bland. All of this was designed to prick the consciences of U.S. supporters of human rights domestically and abroad, asking that Iran be added to the list of grievances worth acting upon.

Speakers at the protest rally gathered onto the stage. From left to right: Najiba Ayub, Dr. Wen Chen, Sadaf Rahmani, Elahe Amani, Jane Stevoer, Alex Rounaghi, Judie Mancuso, Bob Whalen, Dom Jones

And now it’s time for me to editorialize a little.

This month has seen a great deal of news from and about Iran — some in relation to the FIFA World Cup in Iran, where stunningly brave Iranian players protested against the government of Iran by refusing to sing their national anthem, a protest that became more subdued once one of the most prominent recent former stars of Iran’s squad was arrested — and attempts to quell the protests have emanated from Iran, including the announced, but not exactly effectuated, formal dismantling of the morality police.

I have to admit that while the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini seems entirely foul, as do the deaths of hundreds of protesters and injuries and arrests of many more, the notion of getting involved in calling for regime change in Iran chills my blood as an American — and especially as an American Jew. Israel has wanted to bomb the hell out of Iran, its major rival in its area, for decades now, especially given its desire to destroy its nuclear development program. Given that Israel is just now swearing in its worst and most clerical/fascist government ever, I do not want them thinking that it is open season on Iran. Beyond that, American meddling in Iran and its environs — using “human rights” as a bogus justification for war on Iraq, which we had previously supported in its war with Iran, and going back to (though my raising this may not be a popular view among today’s protesters) the CIA’s and its British equivalent’s overthrow of the democratic socialist government of Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. (Indeed, our desire to keep the Iran-Iraq War going for as long as possible, so as to sap the power and resources of both countries, may be part of the justification for Iran doing the same thing in aiding Russia in Ukraine, much as I hate to see it. To the extent that Ukraine in a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia — in addition to a righteous defensive war — Iran may well want to see it kept going for as long as possible for that reason along.) All in all, I have much reason to think that we need to keep our hands off of direct involvement with regime change in Iran — and we need to keep Israel from bombing it as well.

That said, the protestors have clearly thought this through themselves, to great effect. Their demand, subtly but importantly, is not for “Regime Change for Iran,” but for “Regime Change in Iran” — one to be attained through “people power” leading to a free and fair referendum. Furthermore, they do not intend for the current regime to be replaced with another regime, but with a democratic system, as opposed to a theocracy. (This implies a Constitution, which I expect is probably in a drafting stage behind the scenes.

The demands presented above seem like a brilliant approach: threading the needle between doing too little in response to the domestic terror in Iran and doing too much — especially too violently. Look at those bullet points again: this is a legitimate projection of “soft power” into Iran until they relinquish their domestic repression. Those sorts of non-violent demands are fashioned so as to make it easier for people power to prevail in Iran, and thus to impel the current theocratic regime to accept a free and fair (and presumably not American-monitored) election. It’s an exciting prospect for one of the oldest regimes with a written history in the world. Based on other posts I’ve read on Farokhnia’s Facebook feed, the resistance is being careful and strategic about how they proceed — and, happily, President Biden has already acceded to some of their most critical requests.

It’s terrible that political martyrdom is so often necessary to achieve change. What’s worse, though, is if the martyrdom is met with silence and statis rather than activating a drive for change. Iran’s opposition has much reason for hope.

Mahsa Zhina Amini

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)