Students join in protesting Iran’s election

Nearly two weeks ago, Iranian students at USC were celebrating voting in Iran’s presidential election but now they’re protesting, asking themselves the question that seems to be on many Iranians’ mind since the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “Where is my vote?”

“The result was very disappointing and shocking,” said Hamid Chabok, president of the Iranian Graduate Student Association at USC. “Everybody became very depressed because no one believed it.”

The June 12 election showed an impressive turnout from Iranians both inside and outside the country, with approximately 1,500 Los Angeles-based Iranians turning out to vote at the designated polling station at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, said Chabok, a doctoral student studying biomedical engineering who was born and raised in Iran.

Members of the IGSA gathered before casting their votes to take pictures and celebrate participating in the elections.

“The students who were living outside of Iran were very interested in voting this time because they felt like they needed a change,” said Salman Khaleghi, vice president of IGSA.

But less than 24 hours later, Iranian officials announced the re-election of Ahmadinejad by a landslide victory of 63 percent against challenger Hossein Mousavi, who received only 34 percent of votes.

Khaleghi said he agrees with thousands of Iranians who have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest the outcome of the election, saying there is no doubt in his mind that the election was compromised.

Though Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei has announced his support for Ahmadinejad, Iranians have continued to protest in what has become the largest unrest since the 1979 Revolution.

“The implications of this tug of war will depend on which side shows more resilience and perseverance in this battle,” said a USC professor who asked that her name be withheld. “One side says: ‘You have no right to discount my vote.’ The other says: ‘You have no right to question the election results.’”

Authorities in Tehran have shut down communication, jamming TV and cell phone signals and restricting Iranians’ access to foreign media broadcasts.

“I talked with my family yesterday. I can call, but they cannot,” said Chabok, who said he believes Iranian police forces broke the windows of his family home in Tehran and vandalized his father’s car. “My mom said it’s a very horrible, frightening situation now. She was very worried that they are checking our telephone conversations.”

To compensate for the lack of communication within Iran, Iranians living in the United States have begun using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to distribute information about the protests.

“Because most of the population is young, even though they banned all the communication lines, these young people have tried to find new ways to communicate with the world,” Chabok said.

Many Iranian students at USC have begun touting the phrase “Where is my vote?” on their Facebook profile pictures to spread the word. They have also been participating in local rallies.

The most recent protest was held Saturday afternoon outside the Westwood Federal Building. The Facebook invitation had more than 900 confirmed guests and Khaleghi said he expected many USC students and members of IGSA to attend.

Los Angeles has the largest population of Iranian-Americans in the United States — 500,000 Iranians live in Los Angeles and Orange counties — and Iranian students are the fourth-largest international population at USC.

While students said they realize their protests will not change the outcome of the election, they hope to send a message to countries around the world that the results should not be recognized.

“No one in the international community should recognize the results of the election,” said Kaiser, a graduate student studying mechanical engineering who asked that his last name not be used to protect his family in Iran.

The European Union has already announced that they will not support Ahmadinejad’s victory but the United States has yet to show the same reaction. President Barack Obama spoke out against the Iranian government Saturday, calling the government’s action against protestors “violent and unjust,” according to the New York Times.

“I understand the U.S. government’s concern,” said Kaiser, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran. “This would be a tool — an excuse to oppress the people, crack down on demonstrators.”

The rallies are also intended to bring moral support to families and friends in Iran.

“What they need from the international community is their compassion and support and not recognizing this fraud election and this irresponsible government,” Chabok said.