Pictures of a meeting in New York on September 23 between President Ebrahim Raisi and a group of Iranians living in the US have angered many online observers, coming as they did at a time when the country is engulfed in protests over the Islamic Republic’s lethal and systemic abuse of its own citizens.
A number of those present at the meeting were Iranian-American doctors, including Dr. Shervin Mortazavi, president of the Iranian-American Medical Association (IAMA). The IAMA is the largest Iranian-American medical association in the US and declares itself to be a “not for-profit, apolitical, secular, non-racial, and gender neutral organization.”
Several board members immediately canceled their membership over the published images. Amid the furore on Sunday, the IAMA issued a statement confirming that Dr. Mortazavi had been asked to step down from his role as president.
In the release, the IAMA said the board had not been made aware of the meeting and Dr. Mortazavi had claimed it was “a private engagement”. It went on: “Regardless of the reason, this was not acceptable… hence accordingly and unanimously the Board asked him to resign immediately.
“IAMA has also asked him to distance himself completely from our organization, which during its 30 years’ history has solely been a scientific, humanitarian, non-political, non-religious, and non-profit organization.
“We as IAMA members, like other Iranians all over the world, strongly condemn what has happened to Mahsa Amini, a young innocent girl, as a distinct violation of human rights.”
Other doctors and academics also attended the meeting with Raisi. Among them were some women wearing hijab, whose pictures elsewhere indicate they do not normally wear it in their daily lives.
This drew the additional ire of many because the catalyst for Iran’s ongoing protests was the killing of Mahsa Amini by Tehran’s “morality patrol” over her headscarf. In the past 10 days scores of Iranian women have risked their lives by taking to the streets without hijab, burned their headscarves in public or cut their hair in protest.
Before the IAMA’s update was published on Monday, IranWire contacted Dr. Shervin Mortazavi as well as three doctors who were listed on the IAMA’s website as members of the board. Dr. Mortazavi said his only purpose in attending was securing help for Iranian doctors; others, however, were furious, and said they were resigning as a consequence.
Iranian Medical Professionals’ Outrage at Raisi Meeting
“It is really is a disgrace that while the whole world is responding to the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests in Iran, a group in the US has gone to meet with Ebrahim Raisi, and the women in this group even submitted to ‘mandatory hijab’ for that meeting.”
So says an internal medicine specialist based in the US, who spoke to IranWire’s Persian team of their horror on seeing news of the meeting on Friday. “This,” they said, “means that either they haven’t heard the same voice of protest in Iran that the rest of the world has heard, or else they expected to benefit so much from this meeting they preferred to pretend they hadn’t.”
According to Iranian news agencies, Friday’s meeting took place in the final hours of Raisi’s deeply controversial visit to New York for the UN General Assembly. At the time Iran was in its seventh consecutive night of demonstrations sparked by Mahsa Amini’s killing, with mostly young people taking on armed security forces in defense of their rights.
This doctor told IranWire it was especially painful because to them, it indicated that “those who attended the meeting have no regards for the lives and demands of their fellow Iranians. Even in the US there were extensive protests against Mr. Raisi’s visit. So our friends cannot say they had not heard the news. They were only thinking of their own interests.”
Ebrahim Raisi himself was a member of the so-called “death panel” in Tehran that sent untold numbers of political detainees in Gohardasht and Evin Prisons for systematic slaughter in late summer 1988. He worked for years as a hanging judge in Iran’s lethally compromised judiciary before becoming president as effective puppet of Ali Khamenei.
Among the protesters in New York were people carrying placards showing the pictures of some of those who were hanged and shot by firing squad that summer. Despite the noise, Raisi appeared to have a stay in the US entirely uninterrupted by any serious reprisal.
What the IAMA Board Members Said
Dr. Tannaz Armaghany is an oncologist listed on the IAMA’s website as a member of its board. In response to a request for comment from IranWire, she said that in fact, she had long since quit the organization.
“My husband Dr. Homayoun Ataei and I have not paid our membership fees, and have not participated in its meetings for three years,” she said. We are no longer members of IAMA so I don’t understand why our names are still on the website.
“We believe that this meeting was unacceptable. We are definitely going to email them and tell them to remove our names at once.”
Her husband, Dr. Homayoun Ataei, confirmed the same. “The IAMA’s charter says that it is an NGO, secular and apolitical. I am really surprised. In these circumstances, this meeting was outrageous and unacceptable.”
Other board members, he said, had told the couple that they had not been informed in advance of the meeting and had called an emergency meeting of their own over the weekend to discuss it.
Both sent their formal letters of resignation to IranWire a few hours later. They had cited Dr. Shervin Razavi’s participation in the meeting and demanded their names and pictures be taken off the website.
Dr. Homayoun Mohajer, a chiropractor listed online an advisor to the IAMA board, said the meeting of the IAEA’s president had made him intensely angry. He, too, had tendered his resignation, which he shared with IranWire.
Embattled President: This Was Not a Political Meeting
Dr. Shervin Mortazavi is an internal medicine specialist who owns Essen Health Care, a medical services firm with many branches in the state of New York. He told IranWire wire that he went to the meeting in a personal capacity, hence not informing the board.
“I was invited to this meeting before the protests,” he said. “I have been talking for a long time about getting help for Iranian doctors who come to the US to specialize.
“The fact that the cost of living here is high, and they’re not allowed to practice until they get residency, has always been a serious issue. For years I’ve stepped up to help them and have managed to secure residencies, but there are so many of them.
“I had had talks with the Iranian delegation and I was invited to this meeting. I wanted to try to get help for the students. This had nothing to do with politics.”
Below are the additional questions IranWire put to Dr. Mortazavi, and the answers he gave.
Do you really believe that in this situation your meeting could have been apolitical? Doesn’t what you say indicate cooperation with the Islamic Republic and lobbying for it?
If I thought I was lobbying I would have not gone there. This was only to support Iranian doctors.
But from whom you are soliciting help? The government of the Islamic Republic?
I was not seeking help for myself but for Iranian doctors.
Are the doctors who leave Iran for residency aware that you are seeking the help of the Islamic Republic’s government in order to facilitate them?
This help is for doctors who have left Iran. The Iranian government hopes that after obtaining residency, some of them, even a couple of them, might return to Iran.
Shouldn’t we interpret your statements as working with and lobbying for the government of the Islamic Republic?
I have no idea how you see this. But I am doing this to help young doctors who no longer have a job in Iran and cannot practice here until they have residency.
Didn’t the protests make you question the decision to participate in this meeting?
I was completely focused on getting help for Iranian doctors and paid no attention whatsoever to anything else. I had a talk with the foreign minister and Iran’s ambassador to the UN, and that was that.
What Would the Cost Have Been?
In his responses to IranWire Dr. Mortazavi also acknowledged the negative reception his presence had caused. Had he anticipated that, he said, he would not have gone.
In a follow-up note on his Facebook page, Dr. Mortazavi further said that he had talked with Majid Takht-Ravanchi, a former Iranian ambassador to the UN, and had also wanted to secure a building for Iranian students to stay in for free while they waited for residency. An initial agreement had been reached, he said, but the Iranian foreign minister had to approve the budget.
As of now, IranWire has spoken to tens of Iranian-American doctors who all said they were unhappy about the meeting. One who spoke to IranWire was incredulous: “He wants to house Iranian doctors who have come to the US for specialization in a building that the Islamic Republic pays for? We have to ask, what did the Islamic Republic want from him in return?”
Previously Dr. Mortazavi and the IAMA had issued statements condemning the death of George Floyd, a Black American who was murdered in 2020 by a police officer in Minnesota, whose death sparked massive protests the world over against police violence and institutional racism.
Until Monday, that doctor noted, neither the IAMA nor Dr. Mortazavi had condemned the Iranian state’s killing of Mahsa Amini. Dr. Homayoun Mohajer said the same: “As it happens, at that time  I emailed Dr. Mortazavi and reminded him we are an apolitical organization.
“I also sent him an email about Mahsa, and asked how come we follow two inconsistent policies? We issued a statement of sorrow for George Floyd’s death but we did nothing when it came to one of our own. He did not answer.”