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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivers a speech, during the "islamic Awakening" conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivers a speech, during the “islamic Awakening” conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Columbia University students are gathering today to protest the violations of human rights by the Iranian regime and, more specifically, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We are protesting the actions of a leader who publicly executes, unethically detains and brutally tortures his citizens,” Eric Shapiro, one of the four Columbia students planning the protest, said.

The idea for the protest was sparked by an article published in “The Spectator,” the student newspaper, on September 10. The article reported that 15 members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association (CIRCA) would be attending a private dinner with Ahmadinejad on September 21 during his visit to New York for the United Nations’ General Assembly.

“We began our protest to let the broader community know that the students meeting with Ahmadinejad did not represent our collective opinions—that, given the opportunity, there were many students who would not break bread with a dictator and inveterate offender of human rights,” Shapiro said.

Fox News picked up the article and the story quickly flashed into the national media spotlight. False information regarding the dinner was published on reputable news sites, including Fox, which erroneously stated Columbia University President Lee Bollinger would be present at the dinner, a statement which has since been corrected.

Shapiro along with fellow Columbia students David Fine, Sam Schube and Jacob Snider came together after Fine, the Editor-in-Chief of The Current (a student run magazine), wrote an op-ed against the idea of students attending a dinner with the Iranian President.

“There was a pent up frustration about the lack of voice on campus, and we wanted to make sure that that voice was heard loud and clear, that there are people here who are not okay with Ahmadinejad and his regime,” Fine said.

The multitude of negative publicity surrounding the dinner caused the Iranian Embassy to revoke CIRCA’s invitation.

While the dinner has been cancelled, the passionate Columbia students are determined to demonstrate their opposition to the actions of the man who has called the Holocaust a lie, denied the existence of homosexuals in Iran, and, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, said the U.S. planned the attacks as an excuse to go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When we first launched the Facebook event, there was so much momentum behind it that within the first two hours around 150 students had clicked ‘attending,’” Fine said. “We realized that there is a significant student population here that would want to speak out about the issues at hand, and we don’t think that the lack of a dinner should preclude them from doing so. So we are going to forge on with the event.”

The four students behind the demonstration hope the protest will show solidarity with the people of Iran and bring more attention to the issues the Iranian people are facing.

“If we inspire people to go home and learn about the situation in Iran, we’ve accomplished something,” Shapiro said. “If we make it into the news, we’ve done even more. If we get the Iranian government to respond, and to realize that they are guilty of atrocities for which the global community will not stand, then there’s little more we can ask for but that they correct their wrongs.”

For more information about the protest, please visit the Facebook event.

 To view the original post, please visit USA TODAY College
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