Hundreds in Sherman Oaks protest death of Mahsa Amini

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Sherman Oaks Galleria on Sunday to commemorate 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whose death in Iran’s vice squad custody sparked a global outcry over the state of women’s rights in that country.

Braving the 95-degree heat, the crowd at the intersection of Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards waved Iranian flags and homemade signs denouncing the Iranian government. They sang “Free Iran” and “Say Her Name” in both English and Farsi.

The crowd also included Iranian-American Helen Zad, who fought back tears as she recalled memories of “persecution and cruelty” by the Iranian government.

The 41-year-old healthcare entrepreneur and podcaster said Amini’s story resonated with her. She had her own encounter with the vice squad in 2018 while visiting her family in Tehran. Zad was wearing a yellow headscarf when officers arrested her, she said.

“They said yellow doesn’t show enough respect,” Zad said, adding that they tried to grab her and put her in a van.

Zad, who emigrated from Iran when she was 17, showed officers her US passport and informed them of her citizenship, she said, and they let her go soon after. It was the last time she visited Iran.

“The Iranian government always talks about respect, but they don’t respect women. They want to treat them like animals,” she said.

Medhi Keshavarz, 76, carried a black megaphone with which he chanted “Free Iran”. Keshavarz was born in Gorgan on the Caspian Sea and immigrated to the United States in 1976.

“We need a democratic revolution that gives the Iranian people the power to choose their government,” he said. “This should be a government elected not by the West or by mullahs, but by the citizens.”

Keshavarz, who also protested in Irvine on Friday, said he felt solidarity with those present.

“This march is for the women of Iran. And if you look at Tehran, here or in Irvine, it’s the women protesters who are at the forefront and say they’re sick of being treated like half a person,” he said. “As a man, I am here to support these brave women.”

A similar protest took place in San Francisco on Sunday as crowds marched across the Golden State Bridge. Many of the female protesters shouted “We want freedom” as passing cars honked their horns in support.

The protests are part of a Series of worldwide demonstrations triggered by Amini’s death earlier this month.

Amini was arrested in Tehran on September 13 by the Morality Police, tasked with enforcing Islamic dress code laws in public. She was accused of not wearing her hijab properly – a head covering that has been mandatory in Iran since the 1979 revolution. She died three days later.

In conversation with BBC Persian, Amini’s father said witnesses claimed she was beaten while in police custody. He accused the government of lying and trying to cover up her death.

Police have denied Amini was mistreated and say she died of a heart attack; Her family said she is healthy and has no heart condition, news outlets reported.

The news of her death sparked protests in numerous Iranian cities. Videos on social media show women burning their headscarves and cutting their hair despite the strict dress code. Other videos show crowds on the street chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Freedom, freedom, freedom.”

Hundreds protest Mahsa Amini's death.

Demonstrators demanded women’s rights in Iran.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Independent experts with the United Nations Human Rights Council said the protests were met with excessive use of force by Iranian security teams, including firing bird shot and other metal pellets. Dozens of people were injured and arrested, the UN body said, and at least eight were killed, including a woman and a 16-year-old.

According to news reports, 17 people, including two security officials, have been killed since the unrest began, the Iranian government said. At least two women journalists involved in publishing the story of Amini’s death have been arrested by Iranian police, according to PressGazette, a London-based newspaper.

The US Treasury Department said the Iranian government has blocked internet access for its 80 million citizens. Social media and messaging platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp are largely blocked.

The US government imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police and seven senior security officials last week.

In Los Angeles, most people of Iranian descent live outside of Iran. According to the US Census Bureau, 87,000 people of Iranian descent lived in the city in 2019. Many live in so-called Tehrangelesa Westwood enclave established in the 1960s and booming after the 1979 revolution.

Many in the community have taken to the streets of LA in solidarity with the protests around the world over Amini’s death.

Standing next to Zad on Sunday was her sister Nogol, 38, who said Iran needed a new form of government.

“You can’t just say, ‘Now you can take off your scarves and hijabs and it’s fine,'” she said. “The only change is when they’re gone.”

She said Iranians at home and in the US would not be silenced. She called on feminists around the world, including Vice President Kamala Harris, to speak out.

“What happened to Mahsa is happening every single day in Iran,” Nogol Zad said. “Enough is enough.” Hundreds in Sherman Oaks protest death of Mahsa Amini

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