'We want to stand in solidarity'
At Stanford, Bay Area Iranian-Americans show their support for the hundreds of thousands protesting the presidential election in Iran
By Devin Banerjee
San Jose Mercury News
June 17, 2009 -- As tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the Iranian capital Wednesday to protest the results of last week's presidential election, Iranian-Americans in the Bay Area ensured that they, too, had their voices heard.
At least 100 Iranian-Americans gathered at the heart of the Stanford University campus late Wednesday afternoon, many holding signs reading, "Where is my vote?"
Mohammad, a San Jose software engineer who voted from Emeryville, brought his wife and children to the demonstration. Most of the Bay Area Iranians interviewed Wednesday asked that their last names not be revealed because they fear the Iranian government.
"We want to stand in solidarity with the Iranians," Mohammad said. "We want them to know they have our support."
Heida, a 76-year-old physician from Belmont, claimed "100 percent of the election was fraud." He escaped from an Iranian prison in 1979 to come to the United States.
"We need to support the people, but we also need to support their democracy," he said.
Earlier in the day, Pastor Hormoz Shariat of the Iranian Christian Church in Sunnyvale gave a 90-minute radio broadcast to Christian Iranians in Iran, advising them against violence and preaching a biblical prophecy that says God will set his throne down in Iran, ensuring the country a prosperous future.
"There might be more violence coming if the government feels threatened by the people," he said.
Violence continues to mushroom across the country. Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, called the situation "an absolute mess."
"The situation with the Iranian government is desperate nonsense," he said regarding claims by Iran's Foreign Ministry that Western interventionist forces are causing unrest in the country. "Indications of falseness in the government are egregious."
With almost 40 million votes cast, Iranian officials Saturday announced that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had received 63 percent of the vote -- a landslide victory. But few national polls conducted before the election placed the leader anywhere near 60 percent.
"That difference makes it pretty clear," Milani said. "In my mind, there is no doubt there was a fraud in the election."
Monday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for an inquiry into claims that the election was rigged in favor of Ahmadinejad, and also urged Ahmadinejad's opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to work with election officials instead of rallying supporters to demonstrate. But Mousavi has already held post-election rallies to denounce the results. Much of the cause for unrest has stemmed from the Iranian government's use of paper ballots -- votes which the government Wednesday claimed it cannot produce for an investigation.
"People are saying, 'Show us the ballots,' and the government is saying, 'No, we can't,' " Milani said. "They are paper, and the government doesn't have them."
This loss of votes has disquieted Iranian-Americans who cast ballots last week.
"We are Iranians, we have voted and we are concerned where our vote is," said Sanaz, a San Jose resident and Stanford student.
Sanaz also noted the difficulty of communicating with family and friends in Iran at this time -- a result of the government's crackdown on phone and text communications.
"Cell phones go in and out, text messaging service is still down and land lines are down in parts of the country," she said. "So the only mediums are e-mail and Twitter. That's troubling."
The U.S. State Department urged Twitter to postpone maintenance in Iran for a few hours earlier this week in order to maintain the social-networking site as a source of news from the violence-ridden country, according to a report in The New York Times. But Milani called the move a double-edged sword, citing it as fodder for Islamic forces to claim the West is influencing events in Iran.
Still, for Amene, a software engineer from Redwood City, the government's stranglehold on communication is the most troubling issue of the past week.
"It's not about who I voted for; it's about democracy and freedom of speech," she said. "When I call my mom, my phone drops off all the time. That's not democracy."
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