A young woman who was shot through the heart and died on the streets of Tehran has become the face of the opposition movement in Iran.
Neda Agha Soltan was killed by a Basij militiaman during a protest march on June 20, according to people who said they were eyewitnesses and posted videos of her death on the Internet. The videos on Facebook and YouTube show her collapsing, losing consciousness and dying.
Her death has resounded worldwide and become a symbol of the crackdown by Iranian authorities against demonstrations over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 12 re-election. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse about 1,000 people who had gathered in Haft-e Tir Square in central Tehran yesterday to mourn the university student.
“The violence of the regime has intensified. They are trying to create a regime of terror,” said Mohammad-Reza Djalili, an Iran expert at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva in a telephone interview. “The future will be marked by this horrible chain of events,” he said of Soltan’s killing.
Soltan was among countless women, of all ages and backgrounds, who have taken to the streets to demand a recount of the presidential vote they and others say was won by Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister. Mousavi made his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a feature of his campaign and promised to give women more rights.
Iran’s 34 million women are demanding female cabinet ministers, the right to able to run for president and the revision of civil and family law, Rahnavard said earlier this month. The country’s population is 66.4 million.
President Barack Obama today said of Iran that Americans were “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.” Speaking at a press conference, he said, “Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said in response to a question about whether he had seen the video. “Anybody who sees it knows there is something fundamentally unjust about that.”
At least four Facebook pages are dedicated to Soltan, and more than 50 members of the social networking site have changed their user names to Neda Agha Soltan. One page called “Neda” has more than 15,000 members and the group’s 55 officers come from countries as diverse as Canada, Kuwait, Haiti, Italy, the U.S. and Zambia.
Mourners were prevented from holding a remembrance ceremony in a mosque yesterday, and Soltan’s family was told to take down a black banner they had hung outside their home, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Neda had said that even if she lost her life and got a bullet in her heart, she would carry on,” Caspian Makan, Soltan’s fiancé, told the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Persian Television by phone from Tehran. “She gave a big lesson to everyone even though she was very young.”
Seventeen people have been killed in the protests, Iranian state television reported.
Soltan was a 27-year-old philosophy student, according to the text posted with the video on YouTube. Heat and frustration led her and her music teacher to abandon their car when it was blockaded by the demonstration. Minutes later, she was shot. She died in just two minutes, according to the YouTube text.
Iranian bloggers paid tribute to the young woman, one writing about the melancholy of the “alley of loneliness” where she was shot. Photos of the flowers left in memory of Soltan are posted on the blog.
“He had a clear shot and could not miss her,” wrote a man who said he was a doctor and posted one of the videos showing Soltan’s death, referring to the gunman. “The impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest.”
The author Paul Coelho said on his blog that he was best friends with the doctor, and that his friend had tried to resuscitate Soltan. In the video, as blood pours from Soltan’s eyes, nose and mouth, screams are heard and a small crowd gathers around her limp body.
“Neda, don’t be afraid; Neda stay with me,” says a man standing nearby, who holds her in his arms and has been identified as her music teacher.
The killing took away any “vestige of respect” people had for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for an end to the protests and allied himself with Ahmadinejad, because “a spiritual leader should not be leading carnage,” said Haleh Afshar, a professor of politics and women’s studies at University of York.
Seeing the video of Soltan’s death has left Zahra Khedri, a 24-year-old Iranian postgraduate student at the U.K.’s University of Essex, feeling numb and shocked, she said.
“It could be me, simple as that,” said Khedri. The video “will help us with the support we need. Ahmadinejad must not be recognized.”
The video of Neda’s death: click here (Warning, graphic images!)