In death, Iranian woman gives voice to resistance


Washington/Tehran : In the four days since her murder on the streets of Tehran, Neda Agha Soltan has become the face of the anti-government movement in Iran.

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The amateur video of Soltan collapsing on the street Saturday after being shot through the chest, her eyes hauntingly staring into the camera, has now been seen by millions across the world.

The 26-year-old philosophy student was believed to have stepped out of her car for fresh air on a street near demonstrations against the disputed June 12 presidential elections. Her music teacher was with her.

She was shot through the chest, apparently by a Basij militiaman, and a graphic 35-second video captured her falling, crying out in pain “I’m burning, I’m burning”, her face covered in blood, her body contorting until she finally breathed her last.

As the video was seen throughout the world on websites such as YouTube and Facebook, Soltan became an instant icon for the resistance, and also a symbol of the thousands of Iranian women protesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

The name Neda means “voice” or “calling” in Farsi and she has been called the “voice of Iran”, “the angel of Iran” and “the Iranian lioness”.

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said he was “appalled and outraged” by the violent crackdown on protestors in Iran.

He said at a White House press conference: “Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we’ve experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.”

“While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”

Asked whether he had seen the video of Soltan being shot dead, Obama said he had. “It’s heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust about that.”

Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi wrote on his website that Soltan was a “martyr”.

“A young girl, who did not have a weapon in her soft hands, or a grenade in her pocket, became a victim of thugs who are supported by a horrifying intelligence apparatus,” he wrote.

Hundreds of pages on social networking site Facebook have been dedicated to Soltan, with messages of condolence and support from countries as diverse as the US, Iran, Denmark, Britain, China, Turkey, Germany, Lebanon and Canada.

One Iranian student wrote on a page in remembrance of Soltan: “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed… I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that.”

Soltan’s fiance Caspian Makan told BBC Persian TV: “Eyewitnesses and video footage of the shooting clearly show that probably Basij paramilitaries in civilian clothing deliberately targeted her.”

Makan said Soltan was buried in the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran, which apparently has space set aside by the government for those killed during the post-election protests.

He claimed officials wouldn’t allow the family to hold a memorial service for Soltan. “The authorities are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story. So that’s why they didn’t want a memorial service. They were afraid that lots people could turn up at the event.

“So as things stand now, we are not allowed to hold any gatherings to remember Neda.”