Government guns give Iranians a young 'martyr'

Neda, the 26-year-old, has become a symbol of protests in Tehran


An undated picture posted on the Internet on Monday shows Iranian Neda Agha-Soltan, who was reportedly killed when hit by a bullet during a protest in Tehran. AFP

It was hot in the car, so the young woman and her singing instructor got out for a breath of fresh air on a quiet side street not far from the anti-government protests they had ventured out to attend. A gunshot rang out, and the woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, fell to the ground. “It burned me,” she said before she died.

The bloody video of her death on Saturday, circulated in Iran and around the world, has made Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old who relatives said was not political, an instant symbol of the anti-government movement. Her death is stirring wide outrage in a society that is infused with the culture of martyrdom — although the word itself has become discredited because the government has pointed to the martyrs’ deaths of Iranian soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war to justify repressive measures.

Agha-Soltan’s fate resonates particularly with women, who have been at the vanguard of many of the protests throughout Iran.

“I am so worried that all the sacrifices that we made in the past week, the blood that was spilled, would be wasted,” said one woman who came to mourn Agha-Soltan on Monday outside Niloofar mosque here. “I cry every time I see Neda’s face on TV.”

Opposition websites and television channels, which Iranians view with satellite dishes, have repeatedly shown the video, in which blood can be seen gushing from Agha-Soltan’s body as she dies.

Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition candidate for president in this month’s election, called her a martyr on his website. “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.”

‘Voice of Iran’

Only scraps of information are known about Agha-Soltan. Her friends and relatives were mostly afraid to speak, and the government broke up public attempts to mourn her. She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons — women are barred from singing publicly in Iran. Her name means voice in Persian, and many are now calling her the voice of Iran.

Her fiance, Caspian Makan, contributed to a Persian Wikipedia entry. He said she never supported any particular presidential candidate. “She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody,” the entry read.

Her singing instructor, Hamid Panahi, offered a glimpse of her last moments.

He said the two of them decided to head home after being caught in a clash with club-wielding forces in central Tehran. They stepped out of the car. “We heard one gunshot, and the bullet came and hit Neda right in the chest,” he said. The shot was fired from a rooftop of a private house.

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