Iran online: Around the world in 60 minutes

Neda Agha-Soltan was denied mourning rites by Iranian authorities desperate to stifle the anger at her killing. Due to the internet, they failed

The image of Neda Agha-Soltan dying on a Tehran street just a week ago spread round the world in hours. Via the internet's most powerful media – YouTube, MySpace, Facebook – a lo-fi cell phone video showed the world her dying moments, after she was shot by a sniper as she watched Iranian security forces clash with demonstrators angry at the presumed "stealing" of Iran's presidential election.

Close-ups of her face, streaked with blood, joined the landmark images of recent history: US soldiers raising the flag after capturing Iwo Jima from Japan in 1945; a naked child screaming from napalm burns as she flees in Vietnam, 1972; the lone student facing down Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square, 1989.

Within hours, the power of Neda's final moments had inspired songs, poetry and the creation of websites such as Nedanet, where hackers offer Iranians ways to circumvent online censorship. The web has made Tehran the world capital of online dissent, and Neda is at its hub.

A Facebook page called "Angel of Iran", one of 50, was set up to mourn her and candlelit vigils sprang up across the world. "Such a beautiful young lady to have been subjected to the slings and arrows of a corrupt Islamic regime," lamented one entry.

Her face adorned placards last week at unauthorised demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere, even though security forces turned out in ever greater numbers to crush protests.

Despite the repression, Neda's slaying appears to have stiffened the resolve of those who support the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's drive to get the election results annulled. It has also drawn the scrutiny of the world.

President Barack Obama, previously reluctant to be seen to stir up already troubled relations with Iran, called the video heartbreaking. "We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets," he said. "While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history. I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about it."

His sentiments were echoed countless times in tributes across the internet. One blogger wrote: "I don't quite understand what's going on in Iran right now, but I am so touched by this woman's story. I am most touched because she was just a regular person. A regular person who wanted to have regular freedoms like the kind of freedoms I would want if I were her. Sometimes it's hard for me to be sympathetic with people fighting for a cause because I have become a bit desensitised by all the images of fighting, war, burning vehicles, bombs, etc. But this woman brought it all home to me again. When I heard her story and saw her picture, I could imagine that being me."

In Iran, the fact that Neda was not a protester was academic. Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, said: "Neda's goal was not to support Mousavi or [President] Ahmadinejad, she was just in love with her country. She was a young woman, but gave a big lesson to everybody ... Neda just wanted to have freedom for everybody."

The security forces warned relatives and neighbours of the dead woman not to speak or mourn her publicly, associates said. They even banned her family from commemorating her death in the local mosque and asked them to take down the black mourning banners in front of their house. But friends and acquaintances have continued to celebrate her life and mourn her death online.

Neda Agha-Soltan was born in Tehran in 1982. Her father worked for the government. A family of modest means, they are said to be typical of Iran's middle class. Neda was loyal to the country's Islamic roots and traditional values, friends say, but also curious about the outside world, which was easily accessed through satellite TV, the internet and occasional trips abroad. The second of three children, she studied Islamic philosophy at Tehran's Islamic Azad University until deciding to pursue a career in tourism. She took private classes to become a tour guide, including Turkish-language courses, friends said, hoping to one day to lead groups of Iranians on trips abroad. Travel was her passion, and with her friends she saved up to go on package tours to Dubai, Turkey and Thailand. She also loved music, especially Persian pop, was herself an accomplished singer and was taking piano lessons. "She was a person full of joy," said her music teacher and friend, Hamid Panahi. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman."

The speed with which Neda became an emblem of resistance clearly took the Iranian authorities by surprise. They moved swiftly to stifle protests around her death. She was buried quickly and with no wake. Those people who tried to defy the authorities faced physical threats and intimidation.

Last Friday, small groups of people gathered at Tehran's Behest-e Zahra cemetery to mourn her. Members of the government's Basij militia had beaten passers-by, so mourners arrived in groups of two or three, muttering brief prayers before leaving.

Neda's grave, marked by a small cement block, was covered with flowers and green ribbons, the signature colour of Mousavi's campaign. "What sin did she commit?" asked a young woman who was in tears as she knelt by the grave. An elderly man who came with his family – one of the children wearing a green wrist-band – said, "Pray for our future."

The authorities' attitude has only served to feed the online rebellion. When the bullets and batons failed to stem the tide, the authorities came up with their most incredible explanation of her death, suggesting on Thursday that the BBC's expelled correspondent, Jon Leyne, arranged for Neda to be killed so he could get good propaganda pictures. They even suggested she might have been shot in the back by a protester.

Both suggestions were dismissed as "outrageous nonsense" by Arash Hejazi, the 38-year-old Iranian doctor who tried in vain to save Neda. Dr Hejazi, who studies at Oxford, was in Tehran on business when he witnessed the killing.

"As a doctor I'd seen death before, but I never thought I'd have such a feeling. It was not just her death, but the injustice of the thing and the gaze in her eyes as life was leaving her," he wrote in a blog. Fearing for his life, Dr Hejazi fled Iran and fears he may not be able to return.

President Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Mr Obama had made a mistake by criticising Iran over the violence inflicted on protesters. Amid a security clampdown, added to on Friday when a cleric demanded protesters face the death penalty, the opposition is struggling to maintain momentum in its campaign to get the election results annulled.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Year 4 Teacher required for 2 terms

£21500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Accounts Assistant - Sales Ledger, Sage Line 50 - St Albans

£20000 - £22000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...

EBD Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?