- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

A few hundred Iranians gathered at the U.S. Capitol yesterday evening to support student uprisings in Iran and to urge the American government to support the students without using military force.

“Political prisoners must be freed. We support our heroic students. The Islamic Republic out of Iran,” the demonstrators chanted in unison.

The demonstration was held at a time viewed by many reform-minded Iranians as crucial in their nation’s history. Students protested for two weeks last month, and more than 4,000 were arrested by the mullah-controlled government. Many are still being held.

Another protest is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Capitol today, the four-year anniversary of five days of students riots in Tehran, the most violent uprising in Iran since 1979. This group of demonstrators opposes Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist government, but favors U.S. military intervention.

The demonstration yesterday was organized by the International Alliance of Iranian Students, which strongly opposes outside interference.

“Iranians have to be the ones who bring about this change,” said the event’s main speaker, G. Reza Mohajery-Nejad during an interview with The Washington Times.

Other protests are planned for today in Los Angeles, New York, London, Berlin, Paris, Oslo, Rome and other cities around the globe.

Most student protesters think international pressure and economic penalties, as well as internal pressure from the resistance, could force the Iranian government to offer a referendum on the type of government the population wants. Iran is a theocratic republic governed by Mohammed Khatami, who was elected by popular vote in 2001, but has failed to live up to the hopes of reformists.

Moral support for regime change and economic isolation by the United States and Europe is crucial, Mr. Mohajery-Nejad said. The United States has an interest in regime change. President Bush labeled Iran one of the “axis of evil” countries in his State of the Union address last year, with Iraq and North Korea. The government in Tehran is openly hostile to U.S. interests, while much of the population is pro-American.

Mr. Mohajery-Nejad, 30, who escaped from Iran in 2000, was imprisoned and tortured for his leadership role in the 1999 student revolt during which Iranian security forces stormed student dormitories in response to their protest of the government closing a reform newspaper. Students were hurled from their dorm windows to their deaths, and many were imprisoned or killed in the five days of riots that followed involving more than 50,000 people.

Mr. Mohajery-Nejad insists that violence is not the answer for change in Iran.

“You cannot bring democracy with guns and force … We want a peaceful change,” he said, adding that foreign intervention would only strengthen the current government by uniting the fragmented, but strongly nationalistic populace behind it.

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