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Source: Seattle Times

Oct 2, 2023

Iranian American lawmaker in WA says disinformation led to death threat

Washington lawmaker Darya Farivar was nervous in the days leading up to a vigil marking the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman held in Iranian police custody for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Farivar, a 46th District Democrat who is, at 28, the youngest member of the Legislature.

Farivar is also Iranian American, so it might seem natural she would speak at the Sept. 17 event on the University of Washington campus. But since Amini’s death, and the mass protests it sparked in Iran and around the world, Farivar has faced accusations — utterly false, she says — that she supports Iran’s Islamic regime.

Rep. Darya Farivar spoke at a Sept. 17 vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran. (Valerie Hamilton / Courtesy Darya Farivar)

In January, as the legislative session was about to begin, she received two threats by Instagram direct message, one saying she would get “four bullets in the middle of your forehead,” and one conveying misogynist sexual imagery.

Farivar said she decided to speak up about this now, in an interview with The Seattle Times and op-ed in The Stranger, because she’s tired of “this disinformation — not only because it’s upsetting to me, it’s upsetting to my family, but because it has had such a horrible impact on this community.”

Farivar is not the only one who says she’s been attacked. Other Iranian American leaders in Western Washington say they’ve been vilified amid divisions over how to challenge Iran’s hard-line Islamic regime, as well as differing views of what should follow a regime change.

Since a revolution installed a theocratic government in 1979, Iran has been criticized for repression of women and human rights abuses. While Iranians have protested before, Amini’s death in September 2022 sparked an unprecedented and sustained call to overthrow the government, which became ever more urgent as the regime’s backlash arrested thousands and killed hundreds, including dozens of children, according to human rights reports and the U.S. State Department.

“We’ve really been taken over by rage and really confusion,” said Shahrzad Shams, a retired UW professor of Persian Studies, who added the development is particularly heartbreaking given decades of Iranian Americans marking festivals and other events together.

Whether they can recover any time soon remains an open question, but some see hope in recent overtures across divisions. The fact that Farivar considers a success last month’s vigil — countered by a protester and marred by a scuffle, bringing UW police to the event — illustrates how bad the situations have been.

No charges were filed and Farivar said, “It did not completely disrupt things, which was great.”

Iranian Americans hold a car rally in Bellevue to support the uprising in Iran, Dec. 4, 2022. (Karen Ducey / The Seattle Times)

An explosive situation

Roughly 14,000 Iranian Americans live in Washington, according to 2022 Census data, and many did come together in the aftermath of Amini’s death. They rallied for months in solidarity with Iran’s women-led protesters.

Hundreds attended the Seattle-area rallies, with thousands turning out for one event. The demonstrators included people who had relatives endangered in Iran by protesting, and those with firsthand experience of being jailed or assaulted by the Islamic government’s morality police. Optimism ran alongside trauma; there was a belief that a new Iranian revolution was afoot.

Farivar, born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from Iran as adolescents, did not join the demonstrations. Many took notice.

Arezou Bagan, who helped found Voice of Iran, a group leading many of the local rallies, said Farivar showed “zero” support. Bagan said she had nothing personal against the lawmaker but felt Farivar, in stressing her Iranian American heritage on the campaign trail, was portraying herself as something she was not.

“How could she describe herself as a representative of Iranian women?” Bagan asked.

Farivar said she had COVID-19 when Amini was killed last September. In October of that year, she issued two statements declaring opposition to the Iranian government, one declaring it “an authoritarian regime murdering its own people,” and called for a state commission on Middle Eastern Affairs.

Darya Farivar strongly refutes accusations that she supports Iran’s Islamic regime, saying she’s certain “the regime needs to go” but leaves the question of what comes next to those... (Kevin Clark / The Seattle Times)

Yet even after recovering, she shied away from rallies. Recounting the past year in her Lake City home, she said it was difficult to find one she felt comfortable attending.

She pointed to an old Iranian flag, with a lion in the center, waived at many rallies. It dates to before the Islamic Revolution, and as such is a protest symbol. But Farivar notes it was flown under the last Shah — commonly viewed as a repressive, authoritarian ruler whose regime dissident members of her family escaped.

Different rallies sometimes aligned with different views about Iran’s future.

Some protesters would like to see Iran taken over by the Shah’s son, who lives in the U.S. and has called for a parliamentary monarchy, according to The Associated Press. Others support a non-monarchy democracy or, among a splinter group, a blend of Islamism and Marxism.

Farivar said she’s certain “the regime needs to go” but leaves the question of what comes next to those who live there.

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