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Iranian protester: 'We are not radicals, not against Islam'

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Iranian opposition speaks
  • Iranian protester calls for same freedoms common to "most of the democracies of the world."
  • Anti-government demonstrations began following the disputed June 12 presidential vote
  • Clashes during year-end protests turn deadly; government denies its security forces killed anyone

(CNN) -- Since June, he has been among thousands to take to the streets of Tehran in support of reform for his country.

He has braved police violence and government reprisals. He has seen fellow opposition supporters felled by the batons and bullets of government security forces.

But this 28-year-old university researcher says he has no choice.

"I'm afraid but ... it's not a good way just to sit at home and do nothing," the protester, who asked to be identified only as "Hesam" for safety reasons, told CNN. "If I want to change the condition, if I want to have a better life, I have to do that. Yes, maybe it's a death wish."

His wish is simple -- a democratic Iran.

"We are -- like it or not -- (becoming) ... a multicultural and multireligious country," he said, calling for the same freedoms common to "most of the democracies of the world."

Video: Divisions widen in Iran
Video: What Iranian protesters want

The anti-government demonstrations began following the disputed June 12 presidential vote, which re-elected hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi.

Last weekend marked the deadliest clashes since the initial protests broke out this summer. At least seven people were killed and hundreds arrested as they took to the streets on Ashura, a Shiite Muslim holy day. Hesam said he was one of many beaten by police, struck with a baton 11 times.

The Iranian government has denied that its security forces killed anyone and has blamed reformists for the violence. Video has shown protesters apparently turning on security forces, which Hesam says is an emotional reaction to the frustration he and his fellow reformists are feeling.

He says the opposition does not want protesters to turn violent, saying "if the movement gets radicalized, it's in favor of the regime."

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa-Mohammad Najjar warned Saturday that the government will not show leniency to protesters in the future, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported Sunday.

"(We) have ordered the police force not to show any leniency to rioters from now on, and if a person appears to cooperate with rioters in protests, (they) will be arrested immediately," Mehr quoted Najjar as saying.

Moussavi has said reformist sentiments won't disappear despite government attempts to silence them. He is seeking changes in election laws to make the voting process more transparent, the release of all political prisoners, freedom of the press and for the government to recognize "the legitimate right of the people to congregate legally."

Hesam says he and his friends want the same things.

"We are not radicals, not against Islam," he says. "We care about democracy (and) about what we want in our country."

The issue is gaining attention beyond Iran's borders with democratic leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denouncing the latest crackdowns on the demonstrations.

More than 100 protesters marched Sunday in Washington as a show of support for the opposition movement. After gathering near the White House, the crowd chanted opposition slogans and waved signs.

CNN's Reza Sayah contributed to this report.