Bangor walkers with green balloons show support for Iranian dissidents

Posted June 26, 2009, at 11:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Tweet went around the world on Thursday, and the message was heard by local Iranians who took action to honor the dead.

“Paint the sky green” with balloons at 1 p.m. Friday for those who have died recently in Iran, the Tweet, a brief Internet message, said.

“Everybody is releasing balloons at 1 p.m. to show our solidarity,” said Simin, a 37-year-old Iranian who asked that her family name not be used to protect her loved ones in Iran. “This is going on all over the world. I got the message yesterday and … I called everybody.”

She was part of a group of about 35 local Iranians and friends who wore green — a symbol of liberty — and marched through downtown carrying about 100 green balloons to the waterfront.

On cue, they released a sea of green into the sky to pay tribute to the Middle Eastern country’s men and women who have died during anti-government demonstrations that have taken place since the June 12 Iranian election. The number of dead is believed to be at least 17, according to news reports from that region.

At first the demonstrations in Iran were about the questionable election results, but the focus has changed and now is about having a constitutional government that the people can believe in, said Simin, who is a teacher at Husson University.

“It’s for a true democracy, for peace, liberty, for basic human rights,” she said. “The violence was so cruel. You have to stop killing people for wanting to vote.”

Four hours after the polls closed in Iran, where an estimated 40 million people voted with paper ballots, election officials announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected by a landslide, Simin said. Soon after, demonstrators hit the streets, including Ahmadinejad’s presidential opponent Mir Hussein Mousavi, a former prime minister, asking for a recount.

“Everybody knows the election was false,” Simin said.

Marie, a 33-year-old from Tehran, Iran, who is living in Bangor, also asked that her family name be withheld for safety reasons. She traveled to Massachusetts to vote in the Iranian elections.

“I drove four hours to Boston to just vote,” she said. “Before they even counted my vote, I heard Ahmadinejad was president.”

Hers and Simin’s family members in Iran are so scared of arrest and possibly death that they have been told to erase all cell phone contacts, Marie said. Many of those arrested are never heard from again, she said.

“So many young people got killed and arrested,” Simin said. “All they wanted was a free election. Now, it’s become really dirty,” and people are living in fear.

“They just go into people’s homes and take people away,” she said.

Bangor resident Walter Seeley has been hitting the streets around his neighborhood, spreading support for the Iranians by passing out green ribbons that now adorn some homes and businesses.

Spanky’s Pizza is one business that wanted to show support for the Iranians by attaching a green ribbon to the front steps, manager Kasey Gentle said.

“I just feel really bad for the Iranian people because they can’t speak their minds, and I wanted to support them,” she said.

The Bangor group included a number of children and Mayor Gerry Palmer, who said, “I think it’s smart you don’t use your name,” adding the Bangor Daily News Web site can be read all over the world.

“We just want people of the world to know what is going on [in Iran] and to show our support and solidarity,” Simin said.

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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