Thousands of Iranian expats from across North America – and beyond – gathered in New York Wednesday to take part in demonstrations against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly Wednesday.
Clad in green, the signature color of Iran's opposition movement, protesters gathered in front of Iran's mission to the United Nations and marched to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza adjacent to the UN building in midtown Manhattan.
The scale of this protest – and distances traveled – are the latest indication of how strongly the Iranian diaspora feels about Iran's June 12 elections.
Supporters of the opposition say that Mr. Ahmadinejad's landslide victory in Iran's presidential elections was fraudulent. Shouts of "Liar, liar – where's your 63 percent?" and "Death to the dictator" were chanted by demonstrators holding anti-Ahmadinejad posters and banners. Some protesters covered their faces using sunglasses, surgical masks, and scarves to avoid recognition.
"I'm here out of respect for all the families who lost sons and daughters fighting for democracy," said Hiva, a schoolteacher who flew in from Chicago to attend the protest. "I stand here for those in Iran who don't have the freedom to assemble. This is the least I can do."
The demonstration was organized by a coalition of privately funded US-Iranian grass-roots groups that sprang up as the Iranian government began its brutal crackdown on the opposition inside the country.
Human rights organizations estimate that more than 70 people were killed during the post-election violence in Iran and that more than 400 people remain in custody.
"We want to show our solidarity with the Iranians who are bravely challenging a government they believe is illegitimate," said Bita Mostofi, co-founder of the New York-based group "Where Is My Vote NY," which helped organize a series of protest events this week, including a performance installation Tuesday evening.
Another event scheduled for Thursday involves marching with a mile-long green banner across New York's Brooklyn Bridge. The banner, which reads "Ahmadinejad is not my president," was stitched together in Paris using scrolls of green cloth sent in from cities around the globe, and it's covered with the signatures of tens of thousands of Iranian citizens living outside Iran.
Prominent human rights activists and organizations also attended Wednesday's demonstration, hoping to convey a message about the relevance of Iran's poor human rights record to President Obama.
"The issue of human rights in Iran should be included in any negotiations that are likely to take place between Tehran and Washington," said Omid Memarian, a researcher at Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.
"President Ahmadinejad should learn that he cannot easily imprison hundreds of his opponents on baseless charges … and get away with that in his visit to New York," Mr. Memarian said.
Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said, "The large demonstrations today sent a strong message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the world is watching the events in Iran and holds him responsible for the grave human rights crimes that his government forces have committed against peaceful demonstrators, including murder, torture, and rape."
The demonstrations were also attended by fringe opposition groups, including monarchists loyal to the son of deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian Communist Party, and the Islamist-socialist Mujahedin-e Khalq. These groups are advocates of regime change, rather than reform, in the Islamic republic.