Iran Regime Change Protests Endure as Thousands Descend on L.A.

On the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi surprised a massive crowd, joining in demanding rights and freedom in his country

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Iranian Americans from across California and beyond gathered with other allies on the 44th anniversary of the country’s Islamic Revolution, descending on Los Angeles City Hall for the largest-yet statewide protest in support of the ongoing revolution for civil rights and freedom from Iran’s strict, religion-based government. 

“We want the people of Iran to know that the city of Los Angeles stands with you in your struggle for freedom,” L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian told the crowd.

Mayor Karen Bass, Beverly Hills City Councilmember Sharona Nazarian, and Congressman Adam Schiff were among the notable officials who turned up Saturday. Schiff spoke about his support for new federal legislation imposing sanctions on high-level Iranian regime officials who are responsible for ordering crackdowns on protests in the country.

Surprising the protestors with a visit to the demonstration and a brief talk to the massive crowd was Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who has been among the leaders of the opposition movement to the current Islamic regime.

“2,500 years ago, even before America came into existence, our ancestors were first to give the world human rights, freedom, and co-existence,” said Pahlavi. “Today we are here to demand these same human rights and freedom for our nation of Iran.”

For nearly every weekend over the last five months, SoCal Iranian Americans have hit the streets and Saturday’s demonstration was the largest yet; LAPD in attendance told LAMag that it estimated the crowd size on Saturday at 80,000-100,000. These activists say they march with the hope of raising greater awareness about the plight of the millions in Iran now facing brutal crackdowns by its current Islamic regime for demanding what we consider basic freedoms in their country.

“I identify as a human rights activist—I’ve marched for freedom in South Africa, for the collapse of the Berlin Wall, for gay rights, and today for the human rights and dignity of Iranians who also happen to be my people,” local Iranian American attorney Ally Bolour tells LAMag. “This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue, it’s about everyone standing up for the people of Iran who are crying out to us for help.”

The current uprising began in September after the horrifying death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who while visiting Tehran from Saqqez was found to be in violation of Iran’s mandatory hijab law by the Guidance Patrol, a religious police unit and vice squad; eyewitnesses reported seeing her beaten in the street by the officers (Iran’s government maintains this is untrue). After photographs of her badly beaten body and news of her death circulated on social media, on September 16, enraged Iranians in multiple cities rose up.

Since then, demonstrations have grown exponentially into what has now become a national revolution and subsequent violent crackdown, as security forces non-discriminatingly beat, arrest, and shoot protesters. Videos and images posted on social media platforms show citizens being beaten by regime forces on city streets; other footage from inside Iran shows protesters with shotgun bullet wounds, bleeding from their heads, and young women weeping as they describe being repeatedly raped by prison guards.

According to the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency, regime paramilitary militias and police forces have killed more than 500 protesters, including 63 minors, since the demonstrations began in September.

In October, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called the protests a foreign plot designed by the United States and Israel to destabilize Iran. He has directed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp and another regime paramilitary to respond with extreme force to protestors in various cities in an effort to quash the national revolution. While the IRGC has been largely successful in putting down many of the protests, they continue.

In Los Angeles, the online spread of such images and accounts of atrocities has bolstered thousands to keep coming back to the streets. Nooshin Meshkaty, an Iranian American activist who co-organized a Beverly Hills protest in November, tells LAMag that local demonstrations from her community have not been organized by one specific group, but consist of a collection of 40 to 50 Southern California individual activists and groups loosely working together. They’ve worked together obtaining permits, printing banners and flags, and getting the word out to the public about each protest.

“Whether it’s downtown L.A., Beverly Hills, Glendale, Laguna Beach, or San Diego we’re all connected to one another through ‘WhatsApp’ on our phones and helping one another organize each demonstration and getting the word out through social media posts,” Meshkaty said.

Demonstrators hold Iran’s flag during a protest for Mahsa Amini who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, in Los Angeles, California, on October 1, 2022 (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP) (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

The crowds are massive. Two gatherings in October at Pershing Square saw up to 35,000 attend and an early November demonstration in Beverly Hills was attended by roughly 15,000 people; a Glendale gathering held in late October drew nearly 14,000 people.

Activist Foad Pashaei is organizing some of the demonstrations in L.A. on behalf of the Constitutional Party of Iran, which is opposed to the current regime. He said local demonstrations have had substantial positive impacts on protests in Iran.

“When our brothers and sisters in Iran who are risking their lives by courageously protesting in the streets there against this criminal regime, see videos of us here in Southern California raising our voices publicly to support their freedom movement, it gives them tremendous hope and encouragement that they’re not alone in their struggle,” he tells LAMag.

But local activists have expressed disappointment that media outlets have given slim to no coverage of both the situation in Iran and local demonstrations. “Los Angeles and California are home to the largest Iranian communities in the U.S. and it’s utterly shameful that the local and national news media have totally ignored our many demonstrations every weekend where thousands of Iranian Americans have flooded the streets,” said Sam Rajabi, an L.A.-area activist. 

Lisa Daftari, an L.A.-based Iranian American journalist and head of the Foreign Desk news outlet, said the moment is unprecedented in the last four decades, as it’s uniting Iranians living inside and outside the country on a mass scale.

“In previous protests, there was never such a clear message and unifying endeavor,” Daftari says. “We’ve never seen Iranian protesters as resolute as to stay on the streets and make their grievances and message known.”

Experts who have long been monitoring activities in Iran said the current protests are different than those seen in 2018 and 2019 as they are not only spread throughout the country but Iranians of various socio-economic levels have unified in their calls for a new government to rule in Iran.

Iranian Americans in the entertainment industry say they have been disappointed with the lack of vocal support from prominent industry personalities and Hollywood’s social justice-oriented activists. “I have learned in the last few years the hypocritical nature of the majority of activists,” says Dr. Sheila Nazarian, an Iranian American plastic surgeon who stars in Skin Decision: Before & After on Netflix. “For example, they stand up for Hamas, which treats women the same as Iran, but they won’t stand up for the women of Iran.”

A morsel of solidarity did emerge from the Hollywood elite earlier this month when Cate Blanchett, Jason Momoa, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bryan Cranston were among 50 Hollywood figures to appear in a short clip supporting calls to end the regime’s execution of protestors. The video was produced by multiple Iranian Americans, including actor-writer Mozhan Marnò. In it, these well-known entertainment personalities hold signs featuring the hashtag #StopExecutionsinIran. 

Elsewhere, the movement has found support from popular Iranian singer Dariush Eghbali, who organized an October demonstration in Glendale through his Ayeneh Foundation. He tells LAMag that the non-profit aims to promote unity among all members of the Iranian diaspora and their descendants with Iran’s citizens. “We would like to welcome non-Iranians to join our efforts, join our demonstrations, and help us in any way possible—freedom and stability for Iran ultimately mean freedom and stability in the Middle East and for all of humanity.”

And some local elected officials have become vocal in their support and even joined local demonstrations since they began to erupt in L.A. “We are witnessing history in the making,” said Nazarian. “This is the first time that a revolution has been instigated and carried out by courageous women. This is a basic human rights issue, and people feel a connection to the message and to the people of Iran, regardless of their nationality, religion, or cultural background.”

L.A.’s Westwood Village, a longtime enclave for the Iranian American community, has become the center of many of the weekend demonstrations. Community business owners there have put up signs and displays in their stores honoring Iran’s murdered protestors.

“We have a proud display table in our restaurant, Persian Gulf,  honoring the young victims of the revolution in Iran which has attracted so much wide support from our customers of all backgrounds,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour. “Unfortunately, our restaurant was also attacked three different times by local supporters of the Islamic regime in Iran who smashed our glass doors.”

Farahanipour told LAMag that security cameras outside his restaurant didn’t help to ID the attackers, as they had their faces covered. But he’s resolute along with nearby Iranian American business owners in his refusal to be intimidated.

“These criminals are not just a threat to the safety of the Iranian American community, but to all Los Angeles residents,” said Farahanipour. “We are not afraid of these people–  we may have fled Iran to escape their persecution, but this city and America is our home now.” 

He and other Iranian American activists said they are currently undertaking an effort to have the city rename the intersection of Westwood Boulevard and Rochester Avenue after “Mahsa Amini,” to honor the young woman whose brutal killing five months ago has sparked a movement strong enough to ignite tens of over 7500 miles across the world. 

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This article has been updated to reflect the given crowd size estimate of LAPD officials on Saturday and remove that of the Associated Press.