Iranian authorities scramble to negate Neda Soltan ‘martyrdom’

Jun 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

From Times Online

June 23, 2009

Iranian authorities scramble to negate Neda Soltan ‘martyrdom’

Neda Solton

Neda Solton

The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of a student shot dead in Tehran to take down mourning posters as they struggle to stop her becoming the rallying point for protests against the presidential election.

Neda Salehi Agha Soltan, 26, was killed as she watched a pro-democracy protest, and mobile phone footage of her last moments have become a worldwide symbol of Iran’s turmoil.

The authorities had already banned a public funeral or wake and have prevented gatherings in her name while the state-controlled media has not mentioned Miss Soltan’s death.

Today it was reported that they had also told her family to take down the black mourning banners outside their home in the Tehran suburbs to prevent it becoming a place of pilgrimage. They were also told they could not hold a memorial service at a mosque.

Nevertheless posters of Miss Soltan’s face have started to appear all over Tehran.

The attempted crackdown came as friends present as Miss Soltan died came forward to detail what happened.

Hamid Panahi, her friend and music teacher, told the Los Angeles Times how Miss Soltan was shot as they and two others were making their way to a demonstration in Freedom Square in central Tehran. Their car became stuck in traffic on Karegar Street and they got out for some air.

Mr Panahi said that he heard a distant crack and saw Miss Soltan instantly collapse to the ground.

“We were stuck in traffic and we got out and stood to watch and, without her throwing a rock or anything, they shot her,” he said. “It was just one bullet.”

He later heard other witnesses claiming that the gunman was not a police officer but one of a group of plainclothes officials or Basiji militia.

He recalled watching in horror as blood came out of her chest and then began to bubble from her nose and mouth – footage that bystanders captured on their mobile phones and posted on the internet, where she has become a global phenomenon.

Mr Panahi said that Neda’s last words before she slipped into unconsciousness were: “I’m burning! I’m burning!”

A doctor who tried to help ordered him to cover the wound with his hand and press down. A driver coming the other way offered to take her to hospital in his car, but they took a wrong turn down a dead end and had to switch her body to another car.

Protesters screamed at drivers to clear away through the jams but Neda was dead before she reached the operating theatre at Shariati Hospital, said Mr Panahi.

“She was a person full of joy,” he added. “She was a beam of light. I’m so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman…

“This is a crime that’s not in support of the government, this is a crime against humanity.”

Family and friends who called at the apartment in great numbers to pay their respects said that Neda was born in Tehran, the second of three children. Her father is a civil servant on a modest salary and her mother a housewife.

After studying Islamic philosophy at Azad university in Tehran, she decided to work in tourism, taking private lessons to become a tour guide and studying Turkish with a view to leading tour groups abroad.

She is said to have loved travel and she and two friends had been on package tours to Thailand, Dubai and, two months ago, to Turkey. Persian pop music was one of her passions and she was taking piano lessons. She was also a talented singer.

Miss Soltan was not a political activist, said her friends. It was her anger at the election results that impelled her out onto the streets to join Saturday’s protest.

Friends had begged her not to go, but she replied that she was not afraid to die. “Don’t worry, it’s just one bullet and then it’s over.”

“She couldn’t stand the injustice of it,” said Mr Panahi. “All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted. She wanted to show with her presence that, ‘I’m here, I also voted, and my vote wasn’t counted’. It was a very peaceful act of protest, without any violence.”

Denied a public funeral, the mourners travelled in minivans to Behesht Zahra cemetery where Neda was laid to rest on Sunday afternoon. It was a muted affair, as they were – to their fury – under official orders not to sing her praises loudly or to mourn her loss.

They declined to speak but Mr Panahi said he had nothing left to lose in speaking out. “They know me. They know where I am. They can come and get me whenever they want. My time has gone. We have to think about the young people.

“When they kill an innocent child, that is not justice. That is not religion. In no way is this acceptable.”

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