'We are your voice here': Toronto demonstrators rally in support of Iranian protesters
'We're trying to shed light on the situation in Iran,' said one demonstrator
Dozens of people rallied in Yonge-Dundas Square on Saturday in support of ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Iran.
Carrying Iranian flags and chanting slogans calling for peaceful regime change, Iranian-Canadians and other supporters braved the frigid temperatures to show protesters in Iran that "no matter what, we support you," said Zahar Fallah.
Fallah is director of the International Coalition of Women Against Fundamentalism (ICWAF), the group that organized the rally.
"For the protesters in Iran, we salute you. We will never forget you, we never forgot you," she told CBC Toronto. "We are your voice here and we will be loud and clear for you, for regime change in Iran."
Anti-government protests broke out in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city, on Dec. 28 and have since spread to dozens of other cities and towns. The protests were sparked by a hike in food prices amid soaring unemployment. Some demonstrators have called for the government's overthrow.
At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been arrested. Large pro-government rallies have been held in response, and officials have blamed the anti-government unrest on foreign meddling.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed the protests roiling the country on "enemies of Iran" who he said were meddling in its internal affairs.
On Saturday, Iranians could access the photo-sharing site Instagram again after it was blocked for the past week. The government has suspended access to the messaging app Telegram, which was being used to publicize the protests. Twitter and Facebook were already banned.
U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced encouragement for the anti-government protesters. The U.S. called an emergency meeting of the UN security council on Friday, portraying the protests as a human rights issue that could spill over into an international problem.
U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the emergency session put Iran on notice that "the world will be watching" its actions.
'No matter what happens'
Those who attended the rally in Toronto underscored the need for a peaceful transition of power.
"We're trying to shed light on the situation in Iran — that we want a peaceful transition, not a violent transition, to avoid it becoming a failed state like Libya or Syria," said Yasher Gharageh, Fallah's son.
"We are here to support the demonstration in Iran, to show them they have support from outside the country and that they have support no matter what happens."
Khosrow Ziaei said much of the anger among Iranians stems from the theocratic regime's alleged funding of international terrorist groups that are actively participating in conflicts in places like Yemen and Syria, while citizens go hungry or without work.
He says he spent some seven years in an Iranian prison following an uprising in 1982. For months at a time, he says, he stayed in a cramped jail cell with dozens of other men, many of whom eventually disappeared, their names stricken from any formal records.
"The Iranian people are tired of this," he told CBC Toronto.
Saturday's demonstration was only the latest the ICWAF has organized. The group also rallied in Mel Lastman Square on Dec. 30.
With files from The Associated Press