‘Why do you have to post that stuff?: LA’s Iranian diaspora responds to the arrest of Washington Post journalist

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Jason Rezaian, Tehran Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, was arrested three weeks ago on unspecified charges by Iranian authorities (Credit: Rezaian’s Twitter).

The arrest of Jason Rezaian — the Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief — his wife, and two other journalists in Iran three weeks ago has sparked an international outcry for their immediate release.

Here in Southern California, Rezaian’s detainment is both troubling and, in many ways, predictable for the Iranian-American community.

Referred to “Tehrangeles” by local residents, L.A. is a nexus for Iranians in the U.S., with an estimated half a million living across Southern California.

Author and scholar of religions, Reza Aslan, talked to Which Way, LA? about Rezaian’s arrest, and how the local Iranian-American community is responding.

Listen to the interview below:

Part of the justification for Rezaian’s arrest was his activity on social media. For the local Iranian-American community, this is an all-too familiar justification. Aslan says members of the diaspora are very aware of their social media footprint, especially if they are dual citizens or have family still living in Iran.

We spoke with a couple community members about this issue. Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, news editor for TakePart.com, is an Iranian-American journalist living in L.A. She said:

“Iranians are very used to a duplicitous stance. When they go back to Iran, they take down their Facebook pages, they take down their Twitter pages, they hide their social media identities… they are aware that, when you enter the airport in Iran, a lot of times — when you’re taken aside for a security check — it’s not just like in the U.S…. You are standing there with a guy who has a gun and a computer, and he’s going online to see what your presence is… [the fact is] someone’s quick determination at the border can mean detainment, problems for you, or your family who showed up to pick you up at the airport. So Iranians are very used to this dance with the government. But they try to make accommodations because, you want to see your grandma, you want to see your family, you want to see the country where your grandparents are from.”

Nima, also an Angeleno and Iranian-American also weighed in. (He asked KCRW not to use his last name due to the sensitivity of the topic, and the outside chance his comments may bar him from ever returning to Iran.) Nima talked about how his family would react when he would post articles or comments about Iran on social media:

“I remember during college, I would post stuff, and it was mainly my mom who would respond. She wouldn’t prevent me from doing it, but she would tell me, ‘Please don’t post that stuff. Why do you have to post that stuff? You know it’s really political, and it’s a tense topic and there’s lot of tension in the region.’ She would be fear[ful] that I’d never be able to go back to Iran. Of course, neither of us really knew how much of that could be true. But the concern was that they might blacklist you; they’ll blacklist you and you’ll never be able to go back.”