Iranian Opposition Takes to Streets in U.S.

Iranian Americans joined the protest movement in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi today, as thousands of people marched in rallies in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to New York and Washington.

The armbands and T-shirts they wore were green, the color of Mousavi's movement and they carried signs that read "Where's My Vote?" and "Democracy for Iran."

While President Obama has made an effort to stay out of what he says is a domestic Iranian political issue, Iranians in the United States have made this their fight.

VIDEO: Thousands marched in rallies from L.A. to Washington D.C.
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On the frontlines is 31-year-old Ahmad Batebi, who was arrested in 1999 for taking part in a student-led political protest that landed his picture on the cover of the Economist magazine.

He was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to 15 years in the wake of international pressure on the Iranian government.

Batebi now lives in an apartment just outside Washington. It's a small space, furnished with just a bed, a couch and a desk with two computers running at the same time.

On the far wall is that very magazine photo depicting a younger version of Batebi, wearing a black armband and holding up a T-shirt stained with the blood of another protester.

Batebi has suffered a lot since the photograph was taken. He endured nine years in the infamous Evin prison outside Tehran, during which time he was tortured repeatedly.

He managed to escape and and made his way across the border into Iraq and was ultimately granted asylum in the United States.

Batebi has become a kind of hero for political dissident movements in Iran, but when pressed for details about his incarceration and escape he shifts the focus away from himself.

"My story is finished," he says. "There are hundreds of these stories unfolding in Iran right now. That's what we should pay attention to."

He gestures to his computer screen flashing violent images of the clashes in Iran over the past few days. Batebi puts his head in his hands as he describes the risks that protesters are facing -- the same risks he faced almost a decade ago.

Voting in Iran
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"They could be killed," he says. "I'm sorry to have to say this but to get freedom and democracy people must sacrifice. When you look at countries that have democracy, you will see all of them have paid a price and we have to as well. But we have to try to minimize these costs."

Now, thousands of miles away from home, the political activist is playing the only role he can in the current protests -- a virtual role.

Every night since the election he's been up wading through a constant barrage of e-mail, Twitter update, photos and video.

People on the ground in Iran send their recordings and information along to him and Batebi publishes them online to various Web sites.

Much of the current political uprising in Iran is being credited to online tools like social networking sites protesters are using to spread information. But Batebi says his online contributions aren't enough for him.

"This is all I can do," he says. "And it's not enough. I want to be there, marching."

But that's not an option for the former political prisoner who says he's committed to making a new life for himself in the United States. Instead he marches with Iranians and their supporters in Washington.

When he arrived at the rally today he was greeted warmly by friends and strangers alike. They yelled his name, shook his hand and snapped his picture.

For many Iranians, Batebi's image -- now as it was 10 years ago -- is a symbol of political protest, its potential power and its price.

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