Students hold protest in support of fellow Iranians

Televised images of the Iranian government killing demonstrators who have been protesting a controversial election for more than a week left USF student Nazgol Moshtaghi wondering if her family and friends were safe.

Nearly 100 people with similar concerns gathered from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to protest on the corner of N. Dale Mabry Highway in front of the Home Depot and Target Plaza.

Moshtaghi helped organize the protest by sending e-mails to friends.

As honking cars reacted to the group’s “Free Iran” and “Stop killing students” signs, protestors chanted, “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!”

Moshtaghi, a third year Ph.D marketing student, said a friend’s brother has been missing in Iran since Saturday.

“They found his car. (It) had 65 bullets in it,” she said. “We don’t know whether he is dead or alive. Was he arrested? We don’t have any idea.”

Moshtaghi said she knows a lot of people who have disappeared. A former Iranian classmate of hers was shot in the street, and Iranian officials shot her classmate’s mother as well.

Moshtaghi said the mother did not survive, but her friend regained consciousness Monday.

“He still doesn’t know about his mom,” she said. “We’re just shocked. We just weep. We cry. We don’t know what we can do.”

Tehran, Iran – Moshtaghi’s birthplace – has been the center of demonstrations by civilians. They are protesting an allegedly unfair June 12 election that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won to the surprise of many, reported

Ahmadinejad’s main opponent, Hossein Mousavi, accused the Iranian government of
“vote-rigging” the election.

The Associated Press reported that the Iran Guardian Council announced Monday that it found voting irregularities when the number of received votes exceeded the number of registered voters in some districts.

At least 17 protesters have been killed by the Iranian government, according to AP. USF student Samineh Esfahani held a picture of one victim, Neda Agha Soltan, at Saturday’s

Esfahani, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, said Iranians have a right to protest.

“People are fighting because of the lack of freedom in Iran,” she said.

Before the election, Moshtaghi said she encouraged others to take advantage of voting, but the government’s actions changed her mind.

“(On my Facebook), I posted a comment saying, ‘I apologize to everyone if I ever gave the impression that we have democracy in (Iran),'” she said.

Moshtaghi moved to the United States two years ago. She said she wants to return to Iran, but friends said that her name has been blacklisted because she has been speaking to the U.S. press about the situation in Iran.

Moshtaghi said the Iranian government would arrest her if she returned, but that doesn’t stop her from speaking out.

“I don’t worry, but I know a lot of people who are worried. I was kind of harsh on my friends who are worried to be in the media,” she said. “I was telling them, ‘Shame on you. Our friends are getting killed.'”

Moshtaghi said she was arrested 12 years ago during another election when she worked for a campaign.

“I know it can be scary,” she said. “I know what they can do or what they are capable of, but I don’t care. I think these civil movements are very valuable.”

Bardia Saberi, an undeclared freshman, was also at the protest. He was born in Iran and his family moved to the U.S. when he was two years old.

“Some of my family goes out (to protest),” he said.

Moshtaghi said the U.S. has responded well and is pleased with President Barack Obama’s remarks on the situation in Iran.

“(Obama) has said, ‘The Lord is watching you,'” Moshtaghi said. “I mean, what else can you have said?”

Moshtaghi said she thinks Americans understand the Iranian situation.

“Those of us who have lived there – we know exactly what people are going through, because we have experienced in small elections before … any human being can understand,” she said. “You can see the videos of them killing people. What is there not to understand?”

Moshtaghi said the media pressure will help the situation in Iran.

“We try to contact the media and translate some stuff just to make ourselves feel better,” she said. “But we don’t know what we can do. We’re just doing whatever we can.”

Moshtaghi said the group also protested Saturday and Monday on the corner of Dale Mabry. She said another protest has not been planned yet.

Additional reporting by Candace Kaw