Canadian Press: Global protest denounces human rights violations in Iran

Oct 9, 20090 comments

Canadian Press, July 25 – TORONTO, Ont. — Hundreds of Canadians joined a global day of action Saturday, demanding an end to the persecution and imprisonment of opposition activists in Iran following the country’s disputed presidential election. The Ontario legislature was awash in billowing red flags and lime green placards, as cyclists, marchers and hunger strikers came together in support of human rights in Iran. Emcee Alidad Mafinezam, 42, said protests in Toronto have been ongoing since the June 12 presidential election, but momentum has stayed strong due to the size of the city’s Iranian community and global solidarity. Mafinezam said people in Canada and in Iran are demanding a free and fair election and that votes be properly counted. “Our attempt is merely to show that we are with them in spirit, and we hope to raise awareness of their plight among the Canadian family.” Mafinezam said three previous protests in Toronto in the days following the June 12 election drew thousands of supporters. A group of 21 cyclists left Toronto Saturday to travel to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. On Monday, they will deliver an Amnesty International petition calling for the release of political prisoners in Iran, respect for prisoners’ human rights and the freedom to express opinions peacefully. Ali Karimzadeh Bangi, who initiated the bike trip, was a student at the University of Tehran in 1999. That year, militia attacked students participating in a peaceful protest against the closure of a reformist newspaper. Bangi has lived in Canada for almost a decade now and said armed plainclothes militia attacked peaceful demonstrators at the same campus after this year’s election. He said the news gave him a sense of deja vu. “This time I was here, in peaceful Toronto…Inside, I was having a difficult time,” he said. Heather Keachie, a 26-year-old participant in the ride, said almost 4,000 people signed the petition. Though Keachie has never visited Iran, the recent graduate of the University of Toronto wants to support Iranian-Canadians and students like herself in Iran. She said the bike trip is non-partisan, not a comment on the election or regime change. “This is about human rights violations. Regardless of the party that’s in power, these abuses can’t continue to take place.” Others at Saturday’s protest took a different approach, wearing bright green wristbands and clothing to show their support for Iranian democracy. One woman carried a bouquet of green balloons. Green is the colour of Iran’s protest movement and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign colour. Marchers also carried flags and placards. The signs called for change and democracy in Iran, an end to torture, and “No Islamic republic in Iran.” Some expressed their support for Iran’s political prisoners by embarking on a 24-hour hunger strike. Fouad Oveisy, 24, helped organize the strike. Oveisy said organizers fear President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will continue persecuting activists. Strikers want to send a message to the Iranian people, Iranian authorities and the world, he said. “We are standing behind our prisoners.” “We will not stand for anything that is a violation of their human rights.” As many as 80 cities around the world, including Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver, participated in the Global Day of Action for Human Rights in Iran. Hundreds protested in Tehran as well, where national police and pro-government militia attacked and scattered them. Last month, the election returned Ahmadinejad to the presidency. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians denounced the vote as fraudulent and held protests until a crackdown by security forces left at least 20 dead. Hundreds were imprisoned.

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