Local rally protests Iran vote

BY AMY MATTSON | JUNE 18, 2009 7:21 AM

One hue dominated the Pedestrian Mall on Wednesday: green, in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi — the loser in Iran’s June 12 disputed presidential election.

The UI Persian Student Organization displayed its solidarity with Mousavi by supporting the downtown rally.

“The things that are taking place seem unreasonable,” said Amir Touliat, who left Iran at age 12. “I figure I can do my part — supporting the cause.”

Recent events spurred UI alumnus Vashar Vasef to action. Vasef — a native Iranian — organized the Pedestrian Mall rally to discourage U.S. government recognition of victor and incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vasef hopes to sway senators and congressmen by obtaining several hundred petition signatures. Event organizers collected 102 signatures and said they expected more to sign throughout the week.

Ahmadinejad is accused of election fraud, and many Iranians point to the surprisingly quick tally of millions of hand-counted ballots. President since 2005, Ahmadinejad’s landslide re-election has sparked a recent rash of protests across Iran — and across the United States.

Men and women here donned green armbands and took up neon signs.

“Down with the dictator,” they read. “We’re supporting democracy.”

Vasef explained that the students — mostly UI Ph.D. candidates — had personal stakes in the elections.

“We all have family over there,” he said.

Vasef left relatives behind and fled Iran in 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war. Nine years old at the time, he took an overnight bus route to neighboring Turkey with his mother and brother. The clan pretended to be vacationers in order to escape detection, before eventually obtaining political asylum in the United States.

Now, Vasef hopes his family in Iran will have the same opportunities he has been afforded in America.

“I’ve always wanted to see a freer, more democratic Iran,” he said. “If that happens, I can’t explain how happy I’ll be.”

Not all took Vasef’s clipboard and flier approach. UI doctoral student Mohammad Hajimirzaie walked around with a small bundle of pink flowers. “It shows peace,” he said and expressed a desire to stop the violence in Iran he believes to stem from Ahmadinejad’s regime.

For Maysam Takapoo, a UI research assistant who grew up in Iran the rally was a chance to reclaim “stolen votes” and garner support. Clad in a Persian Pride T-shirt and distributing green armbands, he summed up the general feeling: “We want change.”

And for anyone who doubts it’s possible, just speak with Touliat.

“The night is always darkest before the dawn,” he said.

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