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San Jose Mercury News: Hunger striker Mehdi Shahbazi dies at 65 after fighting Shell Oil

The Associated Press
Article Launched: 11/17/2007 01:50:20 PM PST

PALO ALTO, Calif.—Mehdi Shahbazi, a gasoline station operator who waged a hunger strike and public-relations battle against Shell Oil Co., died this week at Stanford University Hospital of liver failure. He was 65.

Shahbazi leased a Shell station in central California from 1982 until September. In 2005, he posted signs at the Marina station highlighting “big oil’s unearned profit”—a protest that Shell said violated the terms of his lease. Shell sued, then Shahbazi accused the company of breach of contract and of violating the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act.

In July, he went on a liquids-only diet to underscore what he called onerous franchise fees and other problems faced by individual gas station operators.

He refused to sell gas, instead inviting customers to spend money at the store’s mini-mart and car wash. He spent long hours writing legal motions for his federal case against Shell and e-mailing journalists about how station operators were suffering. He passed out business cards with the slogan “Pumping Mad” above his phone number.

In August, a federal judge ruled that Shell properly terminated the lease, and Shahbazi was ordered to vacate the station by the end of September.

In October—the same week he was hospitalized for declining health after starting his hunger strike—Shell took legal control of his station.

Doctors believe he may have contracted hepatitis B as an infant in his native Iran, which was aggravated recently and contributed to his death, his wife, Valerie Shahbazi, said Friday.

Mehdi Shahbazi moved to the United States in his early 20s to work at a service station owned by his brother in Los Angeles. Mehdi Shahbazi, a state-certified mechanic, went into the business himself and eventually operated stations in Marina, Salinas, San Jose, Santa Cruz and Monterey.

Besides his wife, Shahbazi is survived by two sons, Saam, 22, and Kayvon, 14, of Los Angeles; brother Max Shahbazi of Thousand Oaks; and sister Bobbie Ajir of Carmel Valley.

Information from: The Monterey County Herald, and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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