gOnline: Calgarians cast their ballot on the Iranian election

By Johanna Hung

Iranians erupted into the streets following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 12, an election which many believe was illegitimate. In the aftermath of demonstrations in Tehran and other major Iranian cities, many protesters have been arrested, beaten and even killed.

On June 23, Calgarian activists added their voices to the chorus of “Stop the violence, stop the killing!” being sung in cities across the globe. The noon-hour rally, consisting of approximately 150 people, was held at the corner of 8th Ave. and 1st St. SW.

Many passers-by ended up staying for the entire hour, donning green ribbons to show their support.

“To me, it’s not about politics, it’s about human rights,” said rally organizer Liza Lorenzetti, a member of Calgary Democracy Iran. “We are here to support our sisters and brothers in Iran who are risking their lives for the basic fundamental human freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of belief.”

The contested election is being called the last straw for a generation of Iranians with pent-up frustrations over their dwindling economy and limited social freedoms. An estimated 60–70 per cent of Iran’s population are under the age of 30, and many have been cited calling their government outdated and theocratic.

It is that frustration that Vala Taremi, a 20-year-old Iranian-Canadian from UBC-Okanagan, can understand.

“As a student I know what they must be going through,” she said. “You can’t dance in the streets, you can’t have alcohol, you can’t really be free. If you are a girl, you can’t talk to guys or anyone you’re not related to. If you’re gay, you’re hung. It’s just not fair. Since the rigged election, people can’t stand it anymore, it’s gone too far.”

Print and digital media reports and commentary, including blogs, videos and YouTube, make it clear that protesters want more than a new election. They are calling for dramatic change in the structure of the Islamic Republic itself- the separation of religion from government, a more transparent and fair electoral process, the right to dissent. Few would claim Hossein Moussavi, Ahmadinejad’s presidential opponent, is the answer to all these ambitious prayers.

But many, including Taremi, believe “anything is better than Ahmadinejad.”

Coverage of the tense situation in Iran is being heard around the world. The death of Neda agha-Soltan- a 26-year old woman shot by Islamic militia during a Tehran rally last week- was caught on video and made international headlines, including here in Calgary.

“Because of the extreme situation in Iran we are all scared that our conversations might be monitored by the government, and for their safety we avoid saying much on the phone,” said a woman at Calgary’s rally. “My family did say that the city is just filled with police and militia, they did not want to say more than that. The past 10 days have been the darkest days of my life; none of the Iranian people I know here have been able to get this off of their minds at all.”

The demonstrator declined to give her name saying, “Like any other Iranian, today, I am Neda.”

To get involved with Calgary Democracy Iran, email them at calgary.iran@gmail.com or look for them on facebook.

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