About 100 supporters of election protesters in Iran rallied Thursday evening on the Strip, calling for an end to arrests and violence against demonstrators in the country.
The ralliers, gathered in a souvenir shop parking lot on Sahara Avenue at Las Vegas Boulevard, held signs that read "Freedom for Iran," sang songs in Farsi and lit candles to honor Iranians who have been killed in recent weeks during protests of a disputed presidential election.
"People are dying for the freedom I already have," said Samira Knight, a 23-year-old UNLV graduate whose parents immigrated to the United States from Iran decades ago. Knight helped organize Thursday's rally and another that took place last week.
"The government has kept them so suppressed," she said. "People are finally doing something about it."
Knight's father, Siamak Mahboubi, said he has cried while watching recent accounts of the bloody clashes between Iranian protesters and police.
"These people are killers," Mahboubi, 59, said of the government-backed security forces. "Who can kill their own people? Who can do that?"
Mahboubi came to the United States seeking political freedom decades ago, shortly before the 1979 revolution that overthrew Iran's monarchy under the shah in favor of an Islamic republic with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader.
"It was bad then, but compared to what it is now, it was paradise," Mahboubi said.
He has little hope things will ever change in Iran.
"It's the same horse, just the saddle might change," he said.
But another man at Thursday's rally, a 51-year-old who declined to give his name because he fears repercussions during future trips to Iran, was optimistic about his home country's future.
"The regime is desperate, killing people because there is no other choice," the man said. "But my people hold that pain in their chests; they'll never let it go. I know my people. They won't quit."
The man, who has lived in Las Vegas 13 years, said he spent five years in a Tehran prison during the 1980s just for associating with anti-government activists.
"Now, it's even worse than in those days," he said. "Finally, the regime has revealed the brutality that has always been behind it."
Susan Alighchi, 46, said reports of that brutality against election protesters in Iran moved her to rally on Thursday.
"Everything is wrong. The government is killing young people," the Iran native said.
Alighchi came to the United States 21 years ago seeking freedoms that were not available to women in Iran, she said.
"You have to cover your head," she said. "There was little chance for education."
Some day, Alighchi said, she would like to return to Iran. But not until the current regime is gone.
"I just dream to see a day when the government is like that in the U.S.," she said. "This is heaven."
Hamid, a 45-year-old who declined to give his last name, said many Iranian-Americans long for a day when they can visit a freer Iran.
"They are killing innocent people just for having an opinion," he said. "They have no mercy for anybody."
And the Iranian regime is not likely to soften its treatment of those who dare to publicly dissent, Mehran Tamadonfar, a UNLV political science professor and Middle East specialist, said earlier this week.
"It's not the kind of regime that's willing to meet people halfway," he said.
"It has been very effective in preventing any kind of meaningful opposition. Giving in to protesters would be a sign of weakness, and that's not the government's style."
Tamadonfar said Iran's disputed election gave people who want more openness and freedom from their government an excuse to protest.
"It's not about the election; it's about people who have had enough," he said.
Knight said Thursday's rally also had little to do with the election.
"Politics are the last thing I care about," she said. "I care about innocent people's lives and freedom."
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.