Last night's Frontline examined the life and death of Neda Agha-Soltan, revealing Neda's commitment to protesting and the Iranian government's persecution of her friends and family.
One fascinating aspect of the segment is a discussion of the role of women in the summer election protests. Echoing the words of an anonymous Iranian journalist who wrote for The New Yorker in September, another journalist identified as Faranak says she at first assumed that women could protest more freely because the police would be reluctant to harm them. Neda's death proved her wrong. In fact, Neda's sister tells Frontline that one woman warned Neda the basiji would target her because she was "a really pretty girl."
The segment also includes footage of Neda attending the demonstration that took her life. The clip below shows her walking on the street with her music teacher, who would later be forced to appear on television reinforcing the government's official version of events. Warning: the clip also includes disturbing, unblurred footage of Neda's death.
Dr. Arash Hejazi, who speaks of his attempts to save Neda, had to flee to England because he was outspoken about her death. He can't return to Iran and receives death threats even in exile. Neda's family was not allowed to have a memorial for her — no mosque or restaurant would let them in to commemorate her death. Protesters keep painting the word "martyr" at the site where she died; the government keeps painting over the words. Her boyfriend, Caspian Makan, was imprisoned and accused of being involved in Neda's death. He was later released on house arrest and escaped Iran. Now living in an apartment in a Middle Eastern city (Frontline says he's in Turkey), he gave an interview to The Guardian. There he spoke persuasively of Neda's commitment to protesting, contradicting early reports that she was simply a bystander. He says,
She said, 'You support me in everything I do, why not this?' I said, 'You don't understand these people. What happens if they catch you?' She said, 'It's not important, Caspian. It's my duty.' She said: 'Caspian, let me tell you the truth. I think that under the circumstances we now have, we're all responsible. Even if we'd had a child, I'd carry my child to these demos on my back.' That's when I realised I couldn't prevent her from going.
According to Frontline, neither Neda nor her boyfriend were politically involved before the elections. But the protests and their effects have awakened political awareness in many Iranians, and Neda's death has been a major part of this. Dr. Hejazi, still the main witness who is willing to speak out about what really happened to Neda, says he has been shocked by the response to his testimony. "I always talked about and preached about the power of words," he tells Frontline, "but i never realized how powerful words can be." As the impact of Neda's death and its chilling video record has shown, images can be powerful too.
A Death In Tehran [PBS]
Piecing Together Neda Agha-Soltan's Death [NYT: Lede Blog]
Caspian Makan: 'I Cannot Believe It Yet. I Still Think I Will See Neda Again' [Guardian]