Protesters join arms as part of ‘human chain’ across Canada in support of Iran

Human chains of protesters locked arms around the world Saturday in an international show of solidary with the people of Iran. But as Caryn Ceolin reports, Iran’s government warned their already brutal crackdown may intensify.

By John Marchesan and The Canadian Press

Scores of demonstrators lined the streets in 10 cities ranging from Halifax to Vancouver as part of a worldwide “human chain” on a global day of action for Iran.

Stretches of Toronto’s main artery of Yonge Street were flanked by crowds chanting “women, life, freedom” and “say her name: Mahsa Amini,” who died on Sept. 16 after being detained for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women.

The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims helped coordinate the events and many demonstrators held pictures of loved ones who were among the 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens, killed on Jan. 8, 2020 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukrainian airliner.

Arash Morattab, who lost his brother and sister-in-law in the crash, said the victims of Flight 752 have common cause with the protest movement that has rocked Iran for nearly a month and a half in the face of harsh backlash from security forces.

“We are all victims of a regime that started killing people from the first days of them coming into power, and this keeps going until now,” said Morattab. “They killed our beloved ones in January 2020, and now they kill other people that fight for their rights.”

The fight for justice is particularly resonant for women in Iran who continue to be denied freedom, said protester Sara Ahmadi. She said she ran into problems with the regime because she wasn’t legally married to her common-law partner, who was killed in the plane crash.

“Women don’t have any rights in my country,” Ahmadi said. “It’s not just about the hijab. It’s about everything.”

Tina, one of hundreds of thousands who lined the streets in Toronto, was moved to tears while pleading for change.

“It’s not just Mahsa Amini that we are crying for, it’s not just Mahsa Amini that we are here for. It’s millions of Iranians,” she tells CityNews. “We are talking about millions of victims – it’s not just one or two people we are here for, it’s not just one or two minorities. We are all minorities in Iran.”

The protests in Iran sparked by Amini’s death first focused on the state-mandated hijab, or head scarf for women, but quickly grew into calls for the downfall of the country’s theocracy. At least 270 people have been killed and 14,000 have been arrested in the protests that have swept over 125 Iranian cities, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife and several Liberal members of Parliament were greeted with boisterous applause from the crowd, but also chants urging Canada to take action against the Iranian regime.

Trudeau said the government has moved forward with unprecedented sanctions and made leadership of the Iranian regime inadmissible to Canada.

“We know there are people in Canada now who have benefited from the corrupt, from the horrific regime in Iran and who are hiding amongst … this beautiful community,” Trudeau said.

“Taking advantage of Canada’s freedoms, Canada’s opportunities, and using the riches they stole from the Iranian people to live a good life in Canada. Well, we say no more.”

The crowd responded to his comments with an uproarious cheer and chants of “kick them out.”

The prime minister said his government will be working to make sure Canada is never again a safe haven for “killers, murderers, and those responsible for the oppression of Iranian people.”

After his speech, Trudeau led hundreds of protesters in a march across the Alexandra Bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

The protesters stood shoulder to shoulder across the entire half-a-kilometre span of the provincial border crossing, where the prime minister joined in chanting “justice in Iran” and “stop killing in Iran.”

Earlier this month, Trudeau announced that more than 10,000 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will be forever barred from Canada as part of tough new immigration measures.

But some critics said the move was too little, too late.

The prime minister came under scrutiny from some in the Iranian community last month for not attending rallies in the immediate aftermath of Amini’s death. The critics pointed out the prime minister did, however, find time to go bungee jumping while other politicians stood in solidarity with their cause.

Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, walks with demonstrators preparing to cross the Alexandra Bridge in Ottawa on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Scores of demonstrators lined the streets of several major Canadian cities Saturday as part of a worldwide “human chain” organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims in solidarity with antigovernment protesters in Iran. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Toronto organizer Amirali Alavi called on Trudeau to back up his support for Saturday’s protest with substantive action, such as expelling Iran’s ambassador from Canada.

“We are here to ask our government and Canada to stand on the right side of history,” said Alavi, a board member of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims. “Stop negotiating with the regime in Iran while people are fighting in the streets.”

Similar protests unfolded on Saturday in cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

In Halifax, the show of support for the people of Iran moved some demonstrators to tears, said Reza Rahimi, who lost his mother-in-law when Flight 752 was shot down.

“(Locals and) immigrants from every nation and every race were standing beside us,” Rahimi said.

“Three years after losing my mother-in-law abroad, I’m not saying it’s let us move on – we would never move on – but it will help us put something on the pain.”

‘Today is the end of the riots’

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard issued a new warning on Saturday to antigovernment protesters, even as demonstrations continued in cities and university campuses across the country for the sixth straight week.

At the funeral for victims of the shooting attack in Shiraz, the chief of the Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, appealed to Iranians to stop protesting. The Guard and other security forces have violently cracked down on demonstrations with live ammunition, anti-riot pellets and tear gas.

“Today is the end of the riots. Do not go to the streets anymore!” Salami said on Saturday as crowds thronged the coffins of the victims of the Shiraz attack. “We are telling our youth, the minority of you who have been deceived, stop the evil acts.”

He added in the same harsh tone: “This ominous sedition will bring no happy ending to you. Do not ruin your future!”

Despite the threat, student associations reported protests at dozens of universities across the country on Saturday, from the capital of Tehran to the central cities of Isfahan and Yazd. Videos spread online show students chanting for freedom and the end of Iran’s clerical rule.

The Iranian government has repeatedly alleged that foreign powers have orchestrated the protests, without providing evidence. The protests have become one of the most serious threats to Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Files from The Associated Press were used in this report

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