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As dissenters are beaten in Iran, a protest movement builds in BC.

VANCOUVER- Reports that Iranian police beat and tear gassed thousands of opposition supporters in Tehran yesterday likely insures more global demonstrations like the one held Saturday in Vancouver, rallies telling the Tehran regime that the eyes of the world are watching, and judging, how they deal with democratic dissent.

One face in the Vancouver crowd on Saturday was Saeid, who said his full-grown beard was unusual for him.  He said he would keep it until the 40th day after the death of Neda Agha Soltan, the 26-year-old woman gunned down by security forces in Tehran last month.  Saeid normally wasn't very religious, he said, but he was acting in the tradition of mourning often seen in Iranian Shia Islam by commemorating Neda's death in this way.'

Under a hot sun and deep blue sky, thousands of Vancouverites armed with masses of green and black balloons lined Georgia Street in a human chain stretching from the Vancouver art gallery almost to Stanley Park. Passing cars honked their horns to show support

The protesters carried paper placards bearing the words “Solidarity with people of Iran,” or “Neda Alive”, a reference to the Iranian woman slain last month in the post-election unrest that rocked Tehran.

The protest was the Human Chain for Iran, part of a global day of action in over 60 cities worldwide to show solidarity with the people of Iran after the disputed June 12 election that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to office in what supporters of reformist candidate Mirhossein Mousavi said was a fraudulent poll.

“We’re just a group of independent students and concerned citizens of Iran who decided to put together a human chain following the news of the same event happening in 68 cities of the world starting from San Francisco,” said Pooya, one of the organizers who declined to give his last name as he said first names were more memorable.

Other demonstrators however, declined to give names or show their faces on camera as they feared prosecution if they went back to Iran after being recognized protesting by authorities.

“The movement has just started and the first priority is getting political detainees out of prison and having the charter of human rights applied to society in Iran,” said Pooya.

“We’ve had an amazing response,” he continued, saying that both the July 25 demonstration and the ‘Silent Scream for Iran’ candlelit vigils held weekly outside the Vancouver Art Gallery were covered by many members of the news media.

Many non-Iranians also lent support, including Rock Singer Biff Naked who appeared at the packed rally outside the art gallery after the human chain broke up. Canadians of all backgrounds were asking for information on the current situation in Iran and background to the political crisis, said Pooya.

When the human chain itself snaked down Georgia Street between noon and 1:30 pm, white, black, and Asian Canadians linked arms with their Iranian fellow Vancouverites.

At least three taxis from Black Top Cabs were seen festooned with green balloons - the colour of the Iranian reformist Green Movement - and drove past several times beeping their horns.

At the art gallery rally, former beauty queen and UBC graduate Nazanin Afshin-Jam spoke out against Ahmadinejad and the human rights violations occurring on his watch.

“We must remember that…the Iran issues right now do not only apply to Iranians. This is a world issue. This is about humanity and this is about world security,” said Ms. Afshin-Jam.

“We must push for a free and democratic Iran because a free and democratic Iran means a stable and secure middle east which translates to a secure and stable world. I always end by saying that drop by drop we can create an ocean of change and put out the fires of injustice in Iran and the rest of the world.”

The three-hour protest saw musical performances by Bif Naked and Afshin Jam, who performed her song Some Day, written specially for those who suffered in Iran after the 1979 Revolution.

Fram Dinshaw is a journalist based in Vancouver.

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