By DENA BUNIS
The Orange County Register
WASHINGTON – Shadi and Melissa Zolgalal were seven and eight-years old when their parents sent them to the United States rather than
have them mixed up in their fight to overthrow the Iranian regime.
But the two young women flew from Orange County to the nation’s Capitol Sunday and today stood in the hot sun across from the White
House and demand that the U.S. government continue to protect their family and thousands of other Iranian exiles living in Camp Ashraf in
“We want to make sure they’re going to be protected and not turned over to Iran because we know then they’ll all be executed,” Shadi Zolgalal,
24, said. She held a red, white and green Persian flag in her hand while Melissa, 23, waved a royal blue and yellow flag with the symbol of the
Mujahedeen Khalq, known as MEK. The MEK fought against the Shah of Iran and its members have been living in exile after the Islamic
fundamentalists began their rule of the country.
An estimated 3,500 dissidents live in Ashraf, which had been an armed camp until 2003 when in exchange for a promise of U.S. military
protection, the MEK disarmed. Recently there have been news reports in Iraq that the U.S. government will turn over control of Ashraf to
Iraqi forces. And American supporters of MEK say that could mean a death sentence for the dissidents.
The U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents organized today’s rally in Lafayette Park. They drew some curious lunchtime passersby but
their goal was not to draw a crowd, said Nasser Sharif of Newport Beach, who is an organizer for the California Society of Dissidents in Iran.
They wanted media exposure.
“We’re trying to bring more attention to this issue so that the U.S. government will keep protecting them,” Sharif said. “Many of the family
members living in Orange County and in the L.A. area are worried we’re going to have another disaster on our hands.”
The Zolgalals e-mail their father and older sister who live in Ashraf. Shadi and Melissa Zolgalal haven’t were sent to America for their own
safety, they said, and haven’t seen their family since.
“It’s very insecure there although they are trying to be very cheerful. They have a hard time getting food in there,” Shadi Zolgalal said. The
answer, the two sisters said, is not for their family to come to the United States or flee Iraq.
“They went there (to Iraq) because their main goal has been to free our country from this regime. They want a country like this one.
Everybody should have the freedom we have here,” Shadi Zolgalal said.
The MEK has long been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, something Washington lawyer Steven Schneebaum told the crowd of Iranian-
Americans he is trying to get reversed. Several members of Congress have lobbied the Bush administration to take the group off the list as well.
“The people of Ashraf are not terrorists and they voluntarily disarmed in 2003,” Schneebaum said. He said the Iranian frontier is less than 100
miles from the camp and that the U.S. must live up to its obligation to protect them.
Rep. Ed Royce said after meeting with Iranian Americans in his Fullerton district he has gotten assurances from the State Department that they
are doing all they can to make sure Ashraf residents are not sent back to Iran.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on to make certain that no one is returned to Iran who does not want to be,” said Royce, who is not yet
convinced that the MEK should be removed from the terrorist list.
Royce also believes that over time “Camp Ashraf will slowly dissolve,” with some residents moving back to Iran and others becoming part of
the larger Iraqi society. He said State Department officials tell him the population of the camp is decreasing over time.
White House officials had no comment on today’s rally.
Many of the protestors at today’s rally will take their cause to Capitol Hill this week. Sharif said they will go to-do-door and try and talk to
members of Congress to help them in their cause.
The Zolgalals said they have gone to House members in Orange County who have been sympathetic.
Melissa Zolgalal said she’s worried that Ashraf will become a political football as European and U.S. officials negotiate with Iran over the issue
of nuclear weapons.
“Everybody needs to be aware that you don’t negotiate with a regime that’s the biggest terrorists in the world,” she said.
“It’s not fair,” Shadi Zolgalal Oglala added. “These are people. They are being tossed back and forth as if they have no meaning.”
Read Original Article at: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/ashraf-zolgalal-iran-2149893-mek-camp#