Iranian Protesters 'Stand Up For Their Rights'

The Iranian government has responded to the violent street clashes by making hundreds of arrests. Those in detention include former Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi. His son — Youseph Yazdi, a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University — tells Steve Inskeep that it is a positive sign that the Iranian people are expressing their anger and standing up for their rights.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to talk next with a man whose father was imprisoned in Iran. This is not a new experience for Youseph Yazdi. His father has been jailed before. His father, Ebrahim Yazdi, was Iran's foreign minister in the early days of his country's Islamic revolution. Later, he said the revolution went astray. And this week, he has been detained as the government cracks down on protests. His son is a college professor here in the United States, and we have reached Youseph Yazdi in New Jersey. Good morning, sir.

Professor YOUSEPH YAZDI (Johns Hopkins University): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What happened to your father?

Prof. YAZDI: Well, he was picked up along with hundreds of others on the night of Ashura.

INSKEEP: This is the Islamic holy day, Shiite Muslim holy day that was used as an occasion for protests in Iran in the last few days.

Prof. YAZDI: Yes, that's correct. The last word we heard was from a neighbor. They came by, picked him up at about three a.m. He dropped off his keys with the neighbors and said they're taking me. And that's all we heard.

INSKEEP: Now, your father has been heard on this program, but I want to remind people who he is. He's head of a group called the Freedom Movement of Iran, and we mentioned he was Iran's foreign minister under Ayatollah Khomeini. What made him so dubious in the end of Iran's Islamic Revolution and so eager to move Iran in a different direction?

Prof. YAZDI: This has been his goal all his life. I mean, he started in the pro-democracy movement in the '50s when he was a college student. This was at the time of the British-American coup d'etat against Mosaddeq in the '50s. And that activated him politically. He has been working for the same objective all of these years since. His participation in the Islamic Revolution was with the same objective of turning Iran into a democratic, free country. But, of course, as we all know, that it didn't happen as a result of that revolution, and he's continued all along. And he feels, to some extent, responsible for the creation of this Islamic Republic because he was there at the inception. And he strived to put it back on what he thinks is the original track of this whole movement that's gone on for a hundred years in Iran.

INSKEEP: Is that why he has stayed in Iran and occasionally been jailed rather than leaving the country, which he's done before and could do again, I suppose?

Prof. YAZDI: Yeah. I mean, several times he comes to the United States to visit his family or to go get medical treatment. He's had several opportunities to stay here. And in the years he was in the United States, he developed a deep respect for what the United States and the West has achieved. And he really feels like the Iranian people deserve the same thing for themselves.

INSKEEP: Now, earlier this year, your father spoke with one of our correspondents in Tehran, and he actually said he was hopeful about Iran's future then. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

Mr. EBRAHIM YAZDI (Former Foreign Minister, Iran): It is going towards democracy. We see something, some treatment harsh. We're continuously seeing some violation of the basic rights of our people. But overall, down deep within the society, everything moving toward that direction, and it is unavoidable. The future belongs to democracy in Iran.

INSKEEP: That's Ebrahim Yazdi, speaking early this year. Now, he is in prison. His son, Youseph Yazdi, is on the line from New Jersey. When you've spoken to your father very recently, was he still optimistic?

Prof. YAZDI: He's always been. I've always asked him: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? He always tells me, if - you know, you can't be a political activist if you're a pessimist. And I think what's panned out in Iran, it looks very dark, but the bright side of it is that in the past, elections have been stolen, but no one has said much about it. In the past, there's been lot of anger and resentment against what's the government's doing, but no one has really expressed that publicly.

So, the fact that people are actually expressing their anger and their frustration with the situation they're in is a very positive sign. It shows that the people have reached a point where they've developed a level of maturity and a level of fearlessness that they're willing to really stand up for their rights.

INSKEEP: What do you do now?

Prof. YAZDI: We continue, you know, as before. The key is not to be intimated. That's the whole objective of the movement. The government is using the tools of fear and intimidation, and the key is not to allow that to slow anybody down.

INSKEEP: Youseph Yazdi is the son of Iran's former foreign minister, Ebrahim Yazdi, who has been detained along with other opposition figures in Iran. Thanks very much.

Prof. YAZDI: You're welcome.

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