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She is the dramatic symbol of the Iranian protest, Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year old woman who was shot dead by an unknown sniper. The man who captured the horrifying images of her final minutes, sent the video to an Iranian friend applying for political asylum in the Netherlands, who subsequently sent it into the world.
“We were in the street and we heard a sound like a gunshot. We thought it was a firecracker,” told the man to his friend in the Netherlands. “For the second time we heard it and I saw that Neda was not normal, and we ran toward her.” His friend, a doctor, tried to offer help to the woman, who was unknown to them both. But it was hopeless. Within two minutes, Neda was dead.
The video that he shot, touches you deeply. Just before Neda dies, her stunned eyes look straight at the camera. Then blood flows all over her face. Within seconds, voices transform into shouts, a crescendo of hopelessness.
“The first time that I saw the video I started to cry,” says Hamed, the Netherlands based Iranian who wants to keep his family name and place of residence anonymous. “I can’t explain how much my body shook. For four minutes or so I was so confused that I could only cry.”
Hamed, who fled to the Netherlands late 2008, knew immediately that the whole world had to see the images of the dying Neda. “It shocked me. And at the same time I thought, I have to publish it. Everybody in the world must know what they are doing with the people in my country.”
After the Iranian unrest began, Hamed had started to put information on his facebook page. He put the video on that page, and also on CNN i-report, YouTube, and sent it to the BBC. “Five minutes later a huge number of e-mails started to come.” A symbol was born.
Initially nothing was known about who Neda was and what she did at the location where she died. This would cause a tragic misunderstanding.
On June 21, Dr. Amy L. Beam, an American IT consultant was watching TV. “The TV newscasters kept repeating that this had become a Twitter Revolution in Iran. I’ve never before used Twitter to search for news, but this prompted me to.”
Through twitter she found Hamed’s video. Only some 120 people had seen it at the time. She contacted him, “He thought the name was Neda Soltani.” Beam searched on facebook and found a woman by that name. “I am not the one you are looking for,” she replied.
Soltani now started upon her own research. The information that she found, she placed on Beam’s facebook wall. Facebook places a profile photo next to each comment. People who saw Neda Soltani’s information, automatically assumed that her photo, a face in colored headscarf, was that of the shot woman. (Update 6/25/09: It is now known this is not how it happened, Neda Soltani did not place a comment with information—it is as yet unknown how the wrong photo started to be circulated.)
Soltani’s photo spread like a virus. It appeared on websites, banners and placards. Even news media used it. She became the “face of the revolution.” The strongly shocked Soltani wrote Beam that she was having a hard time accessing facebook, “to tell you the truth, I’m very scared!!!!”
Several news media have already interviewed family members and friends of Neda Agha-Soltan. It is now known that she and her music teacher got stuck in traffic because of a demonstration. Neda stepped out to get some fresh air and got shot.
There is also a photo of Neda Agha-Soltan (see below), but Soltani’s photo is still circulating.
On YouTube, Hamed’s original version of the video has in the meanwhile been seen by more than 200,000 people. News media broadcast it repeatedly. “Everybody is shocked,” says Hamed, “even Obama.”
The enormous attention has taken him by surprise. “I lost my anonymity. Media from all over the world want to interview me.”
“I am no hero,” he emphasizes, “I only publish the information. I live in a free country. It is a normal thing here. The real hero is my friend who shot the film. He and his friend risk their lives.” Suddenly Hamed’s strong confident voice starts to break up and he cries. “Several times I wished I could be there. So that I could do more. It breaks my heart.”
This is the English version of my Dutch article published by several Dutch media on June 24, 2009.
In memoriam: Neda Agha-Soltan (1982-2009)
WIKIPEDIA: Death of Neda Agha-Soltan