Zahra Attarzadeh still remembers the honeymoon from hell Iran’s religious police gave her and her husband.

Within days of getting married in the late 1990s in Tabriz, north of Tehran, Attarzadah’s clothing caught the attention of a religious policeman while strolling together as newlyweds through a mall. 

That prompted a two-day ordeal at a local police station for the couple, one where they could hear their families frantically demanding their release as they were held in separate cells.

Immediately after their release, the couple emigrated to the United States, landing in Laguna Niguel where they today live what she calls the American Dream.

Zahra Attarzadeh and her husband during a recent anniversary. Credit: Courtesy of Zahra Attarzadeh

Southern California is home to many families like hers. It’s one of the largest emigre centers for Iranians outside of Iran, with a vibrant LA business district in Westwood, called “Tehrangeles”.

There’s as many as 32,000 Iranian Americans lived in Orange County in 2019, according to the latest available American Community Survey data, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Today, Zahra wants Iran’s religious regime to get the same holiday from hell they gave her.

And she isn’t alone. 

All across Iran, throngs of women and men are in the streets protesting the recent killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old Iranian girl, who was arrested, tortured and killed by religious police for not properly wearing a headdress, called a hijab. 

The protests have become a referendum of sorts on Iran’s repressive regime. 

The hashtag, #mahsaamini, is sweeping the world – something that surely must be terrifying the torturous thugs running Iran.

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, was arrested, tortured and killed by religious police for not properly wearing a headdress, called a hijab. Credit: WIKIPEDIA

Just like Zahra describes her experience, Mahsa’s family reported going to the police station to advocate for her.

Except within two hours, Mahsa’s family saw her corpse taken out of the police station, reportedly beaten by police like so many other women for state-perceived religious infractions. 

Zahra told me women across Iran have to confront this reality every day under the totalitarian regime that rules their nation, one that has their destiny in their hands. 

“I don’t think there’s any woman in Iran that hasn’t had this experience,” she said. 

If you’re older than nine years old, she added, “you have experience with this police.”

Any woman walking alone, buying bread, visiting a friend, or wearing clothing or doing anything the authoritarian regime deems inappropriate risks an ugly interaction with this repressive force. 

“All of a sudden, a van stops and they want to take you,” she said. 

Sometimes, you are held for one or two hours. 

Other times, one or two days.

Oftentimes, they beat you. 

“The way they talk to women, it’s pretty awful,” Zahra said. 

“I wanted to die. They make you feel like nothing, so small”

If you read any human rights report on Iran, something I would invite everyone to do, it’s clear that the Iranian people are suffering under a brutal dictatorship that systematically violates their fundamental basic human rights.

“Iranian authorities severely restricted freedoms of assembly and expression. Over the past three years, security forces have responded to widespread protests stemming from economic rights issues with excessive and unlawful force, including lethal force, and arrested thousands of protestors,” reads the introduction to the 2022 Human Rights Watch report on Iran

Consider examining the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. State Department annual report on Human Rights, or the U.N. Human Rights report on Iran

Similar to protests that have broken out in Iran in the past, this generation of Iranians have now taken to the streets to lift their voice.

To call for a different future.  

They are calling on the world to join them. 

Millions of free people across the world are responding, giving their voices resonance. 
This week in Orange County, scores of residents did just that, protesting at Irvine City Hall and at UCI – resonating Mahsa’s voice.

A vigil for Mahsa Amini in Irvine. Credit: Shared by Zahra Attarzadeh

“The message to these abusers is people are waking up, uniting. They want freedom and decency and human rights,” said Majid Azartash, 57 a local Iranian American businessman who came out to the Irvine protest and plans to remain vocal. 

“Back off,” is the message the world needs to send the mullahs, he says. 

“People’s voices can make a difference,” he said, in terms of triggering sanctions, blocking bank accounts and business deals, something he feels would force Iranian leaders to reassess their brutal approach. 

“This is what they want,” he added of activists on the ground in Iran. “They don’t want military action. They want the world to know. To support.”

In the coming days, more protests throughout Southern California and across the world in places like Italy, Japan and Australia are scheduled. 

Tonight, there’s a candlelight vigil at West Hollywood Park at 5:30 p.m.

Credit: Screenshot from Iranian American Women Foundation Instagram

On Friday night, LA City Hall will light up to protest violence against women in Iran with a special ceremony at 7 p.m.

Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. in Pershing Square near LA City Hall, there’s also a Freedom Rally for Iran.

Credit: Screenshot from Iranian Student Group at UCLA Instagram

That same day, as part of a global network of protests, there looks to be another gathering in Orange County at 11 a.m. in Irvine at Mason Park, on the corner of Culver and University Drive in Irvine.

I’ve also heard about another candlelight vigil at Irvine’s Great Park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

This is exactly what free people can do to effectively help those living in dark places.

Listen. 

Speak up. 

At protests, in conversations with friends, in letters to elected leaders and media. 

Demand that governments of free people sever business ties to repressive regimes. 

Read the human rights reports gathered by so many brave local activists.

Spread the word about human rights abuses. 

Connect the dots on who the abusers are – a concept pioneered by the U.S. Magnitsky Act – and cut off their bank accounts. 

Free people have a power that truly scares totalitarians.

A voice.

•••

Start each day informed with our free email newsletter. Be alerted when news breaks with our free text messages.

And since you’ve made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.