Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Neda Agha Soltan 5 years later

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. - Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Parents mark anniversary of their daughter Neda Agha-Soltan's death
 A young woman's last moments in Tehran are captured on June 20, 2009 on a camera phone and uploaded to the internet and seen by tens of millions. The cries of desperation in Farsi by their tone and sadness transcend language and place, in this case Iran. Five have passed and her killers have not been brought to justice and the regime responsible for her death continues to rule in her homeland. Her name was Neda Agha Soltan and she never got to see her 27th birthday.

Nine months later at the 2010 Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy I gave the welcome address on behalf of the summit organizers and placed the situation of Iran in context while introducing her fiancé who would later address the Summit:
In Iran, the contested June election sparked an unprecedented wave of state-sponsored violence and repression. Thousands of peaceful protesters were beaten, arrested, tortured, and killed. One of them Neda Agha-Soltan, age 26, was shot and killed on June 20, 2009 during the protests denouncing election fraud. Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, is with us here today, and will address the Summit tomorrow. Neda’s death was captured on video and in those terrible moments reflected the great crime committed by the Iranian government against the people of Iran. Official numbers place the number of killed at 36 during the protests but the opposition places the dead at 72. In 2009 at least 270 people were hanged and in 2010 at least 12 so far. 4,000 have been arrested including journalists and reformist politicians.
Five years later and the full gravity of not only the killing of an innocent woman who wanted a better future for her country but the extreme lengths that the Iranian government would go to cover up their crime. In George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 the Inner Party member O'Brien explained the logic of rewriting history: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." The Iranian secret service demonstrated this idea in action with Neda Agha Soltan. The Guardian newspaper reported on June 24, 2009:
"The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world. Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said.
This was because the family refused to lie, as the Iranian secret police wanted, and say that Neda was murdered by anti-government protesters and not say that it was the Iranian government and its militia that killed their daughter. Even a complete stranger had her life turned upside down over a mix up of photos online.

Neda Soltani, a lady whose picture was mistakenly confused by the media with Neda Agha-Soltan explained how the Iranian secret service destroyed her life in Iran because they wanted to take advantage of the mix up: “They wanted to use me to say the whole thing was a fake made up by Western media – ‘see, here is this Neda and she is alive." When this university professor refused to go along with this grotesque fraud she and her family were interrogated by the secret police. “They were threatening me and my brother and my mother. They charged me with treason. They said I was endangering the security of my own country. I knew what that meant: death.” She fled the country and now lives in exile and has written a book My Stolen Face giving an account of what happened.

Others do succumb to regime pressures. Neda's music teacher, Hamid Panahi, who was with her when she died was put under intense pressure by the regime after the video went viral. He was interrogated and threatened for hours and finally succumbed to pressure to appear in a shameful Press TV documentary and say things that the regime wanted him to say. Those close to Panahi say he went into a severe depression after he appeared on the program and never managed to get over it. Panachi died today on the fifth anniversary of Neda's death of a heart attack.

Social media reports that two were arrested at Neda's graveside today on the anniversary of her death. Iran News Update had reported that friends, family and admirers would gather to hold a ceremony on June 20 at 16:30 where she now rests at Behesht Zahra section 257, row 41, number 32 and place flowers on her shrine and pray for her spirit.

Martin Luther King Jr. once observed that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and unfortunately the impunity that the Iranian regime continues to operate under only encourages more killing and not only in Iran. In Venezuela young women engaged in nonviolent protests under circumstances eerily similar to Neda's and it is known that the Iranian regime has close ties to the Venezuelan regime and the Iranian intelligence service has a presence in the South American country. Unfortunately that means that we must now also remember Génesis Carmona, Geraldine Moreno, Adriana Urquiola and many others killed by pro-government forces to instill terror and discourage citizens peacefully assembling to demand change for the better. 

We must continue to pursue justice for all of them and keep them in our memory. Five years later the regime's press crackdown and repression continues in Iran as does repression against those who remember and honor Neda Agha Soltan.

We owe it to Neda and those persecuted for honoring her to remember and let others learn of this injustice. Use the hashtag #NedaSpeaks and spread the word.

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