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L.A. Dancer Arrested in Iran

July 26, 2002

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In his first trip back to his native Iran in 20 years, Mohamad Khordadian was arrested on charges of corrupting Iran’s youth with his dance classes and videos. The naturalized U.S. citizen was barred from leaving Iran for 10 years.

The sentencing of the Los Angeles resident earlier this year sent a chill through the nation’s largest community of Iranian emigres, some of whom now say they fear returning to visit families they left behind.

``Personally, I would love to go back and see my old house and visit my grandparents, but I am afraid,″ said David Yacobi, 40, a frame shop owner browsing at the Ketabsara Persian bookstore in West Los Angeles.

Store owner Ghazal Valipour said the dancer’s arrest brought back memories of her own 24-hour detention during her last visit seven years ago.

``It’s so easy to get arrested while you are there. There are no standards,″ said Valipour, 33.

Khordadian’s plight has been the topic of animated discussion on Farsi-language radio and television in Los Angeles County, which is home to a third of the nation’s 277,000 Iranian immigrants, many of whom settled here after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought down the shah.

Although Khordadian has been absent from the lively cluster of Persian restaurants, bookstores and markets in West Los Angeles _ nicknamed Tehrangeles _ demand for his videos have more than doubled since his arrest.

Khordadian, Iran’s best known male dancer, was arrested in May and jailed until his conviction in July. The government said his Los Angeles-based classes and videos were a corrupting influence on Iran’s youth.

An Iranian court sentenced Khordadian, 46, on July 6 to a suspended 10-year jail term. He was also barred from leaving Iran for a decade and from giving dance classes for the rest of his life. He will be jailed if he violates the ban. Khordadian’s lawyer in Tehran said he will appeal.

In affluent enclaves like Beverly Hills, Westwood and the San Fernando Valley, Iranian immigrants have established a thriving community over the past two decades.

Restaurants offer familiar tastes from their homeland, such as rosewater ice cream. Iranian music stars are regular headliners at concert venues _ Persian sensation Googoosh is set to perform Sept. 28 at the Staples Center. The University of California at Los Angeles offers degrees in Iranian studies. And the Persian Broadcasting Co. in Encino beams 24 hours of entertainment and news programming to an estimated 15 million viewers in Iran, who watch using outlawed satellite dishes.

``Even a poor man, they have a satellite dish,″ said Massoud Jamali, a partner in the entertainment company. ``That is their only connection to the Western world.″

Iranian entertainers say they are especially vulnerable in Iran for clashing with the country’s official interpretation of Islam. After the revolution, war hymns, traditional songs and instrumentals became the only legal music in Iran.

``We can’t perform there, we can’t go there and we can’t sell our albums,″ said Andy Madadian, an Iranian singer scheduled to appear before 6,000 fans at a Hollywood theater next month.

Mehdi Zokaei, editor in chief of Javanan International, a weekly Persian magazine, said clerics may have been offended by seeing Khordadian on television dancing with women, which is forbidden in Iran.

State Department spokesman Gregg Sullivan said the U.S. government has asked Swiss diplomats to monitor Khordadian’s treatment in Iran. He said Khordadian’s chances of early release are not promising.

Homa Taraji, who recently organized a contemporary Iranian artists’ exhibit in West Hollywood, said that the country has shown signs of reform but that repression remains pervasive.

``Not all artistic expression is allowed,″ she said. ``Every now and then the government thinks things have gone too far and they arrest someone to show their power.″

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