Man Sets Self on Fire to Protest Iranian’s Visit

Times Staff Writer

An Iranian bookstore owner set himself afire and suffered serious burns during a demonstration outside the Federal Building in Westwood on Sunday in protest of the scheduled visit of the president of Iran to the United Nations this week, friends said.

“A ring of friends gathered around the burning man preventing deputies from coming to his aid for several minutes,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Lee said.

The protester, Neusha Farrahi, 31, sustained second- and third-degree burns over 60% of his body, with the most serious burns to his upper torso, paramedics reported.


Farrahi, who has no known relatives here, runs the Persian-language bookstore Khaneh Ketab (House of Iranian books) on Westwood Boulevard. He was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where officials declined to comment on his condition.

An estimated 800 people from two groups--both opposed to the current Khomeini government in Iran, but also opposed to each other--were protesting the visit of Iranian President Ali Khamenei, who is scheduled to visit the UN on Tuesday, when the immolation incident occurred shortly after 5 p.m., Lee said.

A fellow demonstrator, Mansour Majadad, told the Associated Press that Farrahi “poured gasoline on himself and set himself afire.” However, deputies said no gasoline container was found at the scene.

Farrahi left a letter to be distributed to the media after what he believed would be his death, said a longtime friend, Hamid Basgani.

Farrahi wrote: “By setting fire to myself I am not only protesting the presence of the Iranian butcher, Khamenei, to the United Nations, but also President Reagan’s ultra-right foreign policy as well as the poisonous activities of pro-monarchy elements who are using the crimes of the Khomeini regime as an excuse to bring back the power of the murderous dynasty of (the late Shah Mohammed Reza) Pahlavi.

“I do not wish to die, I love life but apparently in order to preserve the very same life the only alternative left is dying,” the letter concluded.


“If I had the slightest idea he would try this, I would have tried to prevent it,” Basgani said. “As it was, the first thing I knew was when I heard his screams and saw my friend on fire. . . .

“By the time deputies were able to get through the circle of friends, the fire was out,” Basgani said. “I was absolutely disgusted at some of his friends who let him do this. I heard one of them trying to tell the paramedics that he would be OK, there was nothing to it and not to bother.”

Basgani said Farrahi considered himself a liberal and was often at odds with his fellow Iranians in this country over their obsession with problems in their homeland.

“I guess he felt this was the only way he could publicize and in some way express his anger and revulsion at the visit of Khamenei,” Basgani said. “He wanted to take any methods he could to prevent the visit.”

Basgani said that one group of protesters, the largest, is pro-monarchist and wants restoration of a government similar to that of the late Shah, whose son is seeking to return as the head of Iran.

The group with which Farrahi and Basgani are associated is “an ad hoc committee, which seeks democracy for Persia and is against the theocracy that runs it now,” Basgani said. He said many elements make up the committee, including longtime foes of the Shah who left before his downfall as well as refugees from the dictatorship of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


“Immediately after the attempted immolation, the protesters were dispersed without any major incidents,” Deputy Hal Grant said.