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6/16/03 - IRAN DEMONSTRATIONS - 2003-06-17

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Iran’s capital, Tehran, to oppose the country’s Islamic fundamentalist regime. While Tehran University students led the protests, government workers and residents of the capital’s poorer neighborhoods joined in. According to press reports, thousands of people turned out despite threats by pro-government vigilantes.

The protesters’ slogans make clear their frustration. Some chanted, “Freedom, freedom!” and “Democracy, democracy!” while others shouted “Khamenei the traitor must be hanged!” – a reference to Ayatollah Khamenei, the clerical regime’s leader. The fact that such sentiments are being expressed publicly is significant, since criticism of Khamenei can bring a jail term. “For twenty-five years we have lived without any freedom,” a thirty-four-year-old government worker told the New York Times newspaper. “We want social freedom, economic freedom and political freedom.” One student said he had been lashed and jailed for having a satellite dish. “It’s time to stand up for what we want,” he said.

As on previous occasions, pro-government vigilantes on motorcycles chased down and beat some of the protesters, while police attacked and arrested others.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that the United States is concerned about the protesters who were arrested simply for expressing their political views:

"We applaud the Iranian people for calling attention to the destructive policies of the Iranian government that do such a disservice to its population. Iranians, like all people, have a right to determine their own destiny. The United States fully supports their aspirations to live in freedom."

It is time for the Iranian people’s call for democracy and the rule of law to be heard.