Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday afternoon in solidarity with protesters in Iran who have been subjected to a violent government crackdown.
They gathered at Queen’s Park at around 2 p.m. and subsequently made their way to Nathan Phillips Square, chanting and carrying flags and signs that included “Stand with the people of Iran,” “Say no to dictatorship in Iran,” “Say Her Name, Mahsa Amini,” and “Women, Life, Freedom.”
Called “The Time Has Come,” the rally organized by the International Centre for Human Rights is one of the several that took place worldwide on Saturday. Similar demonstrations were held in U.S. and European cities condemning the actions of the Iranian government.
Protests have erupted across the Middle Eastern country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was taken into custody by Iran’s morality police after she allegedly wore her mandatory Islamic headscarf too loose.
According to several human rights groups, Iran’s security forces have killed 200 people while dispersing demonstrations using live ammunition and tear gas.
“We are here in solidarity with brave Iranian women. They are on the streets and protesting against the regime. We are here to be their voice,” said Mehrzad Zarei, one of the organizers of the Toronto rally.
“We are here to say the Islamic regime must go.”
Zarei’s son was one of the 176 people killed on board the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was struck by surface-to-air missile fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of Iran’s military.
He said the thousands who attended the rally are sending a strong message to women back in Iran that they are not alone in their fight.
“We are standing with them. We will do everything in our power to be their voice.”
Earlier this month, a similar rally was held in Richmond Hill that approximately more than 50,000 people attended.
The violent crackdown on protesters has prompted Ottawa to bar more than half of the Revolutionary Guard from entering the country and impose restrictions on several Iranian officials.
Kimia Bakhshi echoed the sentiments of many people who attended the rally – she wants to be a voice for the people back in Iran who are dying while fighting for their freedom.
“We escaped our country. We came to a better place to be their voice to fight for them — people who are suppressed in Iran, people who go to prison, people who die only because they’re talking about their rights,” Bakhshi said.
Her fellow demonstrator, who has family in Iran and fears for their safety, said she was at the rally to add her voice and help those being persecuted in her country.
“Everyone I love is being killed, slaughtered by the government in the streets… I have to be their voice because I had the chance to escape, but they don’t have that chance,” she said.
She believes a revolution in Iran is the only way to bring change.
“The government does not have the right to kill our teenagers, our girls, our boys, our kids, everyone,” she said.
– with files from The Associated Press