Neda: the voice of Freedom for Iranian nation

The following article has been written based on the video documentary “For Neda” written, produced and directed by Antony Thomas. (it is a long article as you can see but every single detail in the video documentary is highly important to understand Neda’s life and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime)

Two years ago on June 20th Neda Agha-Soltan, an innocent young woman was shot during the protests in Iran following the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Since that day, she has been seen as a powerful international symbol of the Iranian struggle. Iranian protesters all around the world started wearing T-shirt with Neda’s face and brandishing placards with her face on them.

Neda’s name in Farsi means « voice »: the voice and the spirit of the Iranian Revolution. From her youngest age, Neda was already a rebel and she had the strong character to refuse bans or control. For instance, she fought with school authorities to avoid wearing the tchador and she won that battle. She was the first girl at school not to wear it. She always used to say : « why you don’t really tell people what you think? » She was very brave and she was not scared of anything. However she sadly used to say:  « If we live in this country, we cannot live as human beings » plus « as a woman, I can’t even go outside without being covered up.» Neda’s father was very proud of his daughter: « there was not fear in her eyes, I respected her so much for her courage ».

In Iran, women risk a lot if they are seen in public with a man who is not related to them. This is why her hair and body must be always covered every time she is outside, even on the beach. However, in some major cities, women wear colourful headscarves or show a little bit of their hair. But they risk a humiliating arrest at anytime by the police or the notorious Bassijdi Militia.In many parts of the country, being dressed up in black is the norm. As a woman, you have to disappear in the public eye, you cannot be. The more you attract attention to yourself, the more you are targeted because you are supposed not to be, you are supposed to be invisible, explains Professor Roya Borounmand. Thus, the control of the regime over women’s body in Iran is a direct attack to their freedom and dignity. The law is very strict for women in many different ways, not only in terms of dress. For instance, they cannot get married without the consent of their father or paternal grandfather. Divorce is the exclusive right of the husband and they automatically have the right to keep the children over 7 years of age, or even younger if the mother marries again. Basically: “when you remarry your lose your child”.

The value of woman’s life is half of man’s life in Iran.

If a woman in Iran lays charges against a man for violence and if he denies, she will be accused of lies: she has no chance of obtaining convictions against the man. Even worse, she could be incriminated for bringing false testimonials. Additionally, Iran has the highest rate of execution in the world as a proportion of the population of the country (see Death Sentences and Executions 2010, a document by Amnesty International). The death penalty is imposed for adultery, possession of drugs, homosexual behaviour or even non-violent protest. There is another striking difference between boys and girls: the age of criminality for a girl is 8 years old whereas it is 14 years old for a boy. If a little girl is sentenced to death, she might go to jail until she is 18 years old to await her execution.

As the video documentary tells us about Neda’s life, she was married to a man she loved in 2004 when she was 21. They were together for almost four years but then they divorced because of cultural differences: he was from the North whereas she was from Teheran. She used to read forbidden books such as The Last temptation of the Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis. Most of the books she read were by nature considered subversive by the regime. She was very curious and she had a mind willing to know and learn. She went to the University of Teheran to study Islamic philosophy. Before entering into University, women are inspected to check if they have make-up or if they are well dressed according to the rules of the regime. But she quickly gave up some of her courses because, as she told her family, the God they are teaching at University is different from the God she has known since she was a kid. She said that the God they were presenting was a God of revenge whereas the God she knew was a compassionate and loving God. She had the thought that the regime had confiscated religion and turned it into an ideology, they deprived Islam of everything that makes religion human. Neda dreamt about living outside of Iran even only for one day. Therefore, she started to go to a language course to learn Turkish. Neda visited Turkey a few times working as a tour guide, and she enjoyed beeing free to act and dress up as she wished. Neda loved dancing and was keen on the singer Googoosh. She learnt Arabic dance when she could be free behind closed doors at her house back in Iran. Like many girls in the world, Neda was just dreaming about fashion, being able to live the way she wanted to live, reading the books she wanted to and giving love.

Neda is portrayed as a heroine with exceptional courage and strength.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in June 2009 even if the whole process was suspect from the beginning of the vote. According to this documentary, he was paying people to vote for him and promised to build schools, roads all over the country (construction work were begun but quickly abandoned when Ahmadinejad was re-elected). He claimed to poor people: “we promise to bring water to your village”. According to Professor Ali Ansari (Professor of Iranian History at University of St.Andrews), it was an election under the rules established by the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, for the first time in Iran, there was a debate preceding the vote accepted by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Consequently, the Young generations were hoping that something was changing in their country, as was Neda. They were celebrating that debate in the streets already saying “Ahmadinejad bye bye”. Neda’s sister tearfully said: “It’s very sad when you see this joyful week and what finally happened”. The atmosphere in the week was euphoric, people really thought that the situation could change. It was a non-violent demonstration down the streets. During the vote, suspicion started. In some vote offices, there was no representation for the opposite candidates, people could only find Ahmadinejad’s name. Later on, the Bassidji militia started a massive arrest of political activists all over the country. Without being a big surprise, Ahmadinejad was elected with 60% of the votes. Neda was very angry about that election: the election was fake. This is why the day after the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Neda joined the people in the protest. She thought that Iranian people were insulted. Millions of people on June 15th demonstrated peacefully, displaying their disagreement in the streets. All the categories of the people were featured in the crowd: men, women, young people, religious, non-religious, families, very old people. Everybody was there to claim their protest in silence. The participation of women was absolutely exceptional and they were at the forefront of the protest. Neda symbolised a generation: she was a young girl trying to get more freedom. Neda was in the protest everyday. One day though, three Bassidji women approached her and said: “Dear, please don’t come up looking so beautiful because the Bassidji men target beautiful girls and they will shoot you”. Beauty is a danger to these fundamentalist men. They cannot control themselves in front of beauty and they are scared that by looking at beauty they will lose their relationship with God. “If you look at the beauty, the devil will come to your mind” think some men as explains the Iranian photographer Reza Deghati. So as these men cannot control themselves, they prefer killing the temptation.

On June 16th, 4 days after the election, violence was starting to show up not from the demonstrators but from the police. Therefore, Iranian and in particular foreign journalists were clearly not welcome to stay, they were beaten by Ahmadinejad’s men. Nevertheless, thanks to Youtube and social media networks in general, people became citizen journalists and posted videos of what was really happening in the streets and the violence from the regime of Ahmadinejad. People started to say: “Our leader is a dictator, you should be removed”, “Death to the dictator”. Neda’s mother did not want her daughter to go protesting again because it was getting more and more dangerous but Neda told her mum: “I have to go, I have to go”. Everyone in the streets that day were clearly declaring war on the Islamic republic of Iran and were risking violent consequences from the regime itself. Neda knew all the risks but she was not afraid. Neda called her mother every half an hour to reassure her and said at some point: “it’s like hell, I’ve never seen so many government forces in my life before.” A few minutes after talking to her mother on the phone, the worst happened: Neda was shot in her chest. No one could save her explained a doctor who was with her that day. It was such a tragic moment and no one could help this young and innocent woman, Neda Agha-Soltan. A few weeks later, the Iranian regime first said that she went to Greece to hide herself, then they said she was killed by a BBC journalist or even by a CIA agent.

The Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou wrote: “Our dignity has been bartered, we had all the words in the world, yet we did not utter the only word that matters: FREEDOM”.

Rest in Peace Neda