Zahra Sadeghpour clutched a red leather-bound book containing the names and stories of more than 1,000 people who have been executed in Iran since 1979. One of those stories is her brother's. He was tortured and killed in 1989, Sadeghpour said, because "he was known to voice his opinion."
Sadeghpour, 34, a pharmacist who left Iran in 1987, traveled from Watertown, Mass., to join thousands of Iranian Americans who thronged the Mall yesterday to show their solidarity with the student protesters who have roiled Iran in recent weeks and to call for the overthrow of Iran's cleric-led government.
The protesters on the Mall waved flags and chanted in Farsi and English. "From the blood of Iranian students, Iran becomes colorful, and Khatemi is exposed!" they shouted in Farsi, referring to President Mohammed Khatemi. "The only way to freedom is to support the Mujaheddin and topple this regime with armed struggle!"
The Mujaheddin are members of Iran's armed resistance movement. The United States does not recognize the movement's government in exile, which is based in Iraq. In speeches at the rally, protesters and members of Congress called for an end to American "appeasement" of Khatemi, whom many in the West view as a moderate and a reformer.
The protesters also complained of continuing human rights violations, crackdowns on free speech and arrests of religious minorities in Iran and argued that only the overthrow of the current government can bring democratic freedoms.
Khatemi is no different from his predecessors, said Soona Samsami, the U.S. representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. "Khatemi is not a moderate. He is a man of the system," she said in an interview.
The recent ban on public gatherings in Iran "is an indication of how hypocritical Khatemi is regarding democracy," said Hossen Saied, 38, a computer science professor from Omaha.
The event, which included a march down Pennsylvania Avenue, contained more than a few traces of irony. As they faced the U.S. Capitol, some protesters waved portraits of Mohammed Mossadegh, the left-wing Iranian prime minister whom the United States helped to overthrow in 1953 in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Shah was toppled in turn in 1979, ushering in a winter of U.S.-Iranian hostility that only in recent years has shown signs of easing.
The recent arrests of 13 Iranian Jews on espionage charges marks "a new, formerly unthinkable level of terror by an ever more ruthless regime," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the protesters. She then addressed the Clinton administration and the State Department, saying, "Stop sending mixed messages to the brutal mullah regime."
Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) also spoke at the rally.
For Iranians who traveled from across the United States to demonstrate, the gathering was a chance to reminisce about a land many still regard as home.
"I was a true believer in the cause of revolution," said Mohammad Tasooji, 44. "I was betrayed." Tasooji, a telecommunications manager, left Iran to get a doctorate and now lives in Carlsbad, Calif.
Zolal Habibi, 18, of Springfield, said she was inspired by news broadcasts of the Tehran demonstrations. "Just seeing the students--even though they live in oppression, they still rise to express their opinions," said Habibi, whose parents left Iran after the 1979 revolution. "I'm just here to support their cause."
Organizers estimated that 12,000 people attended the rally. The U.S. Park Police, which controls the Mall, no longer makes crowd estimates.
CAPTION: Demonstrators on the Mall protest the suppression of dissent in Iran and call for the overthrow of the government.