Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using the Gaza flotilla episode to distract attention from the anniversary of his rigged re-election — and from a fourth round of U.N. sanctions passed Wednesday to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program.
But the Iranian leader’s denunciations of the deaths in the botched Israeli raid can’t erase images of scores of dead Iranian civilians mowed down as they peacefully protested election fraud after the June 12, 2009, ballot. Those images have been preserved for posterity on YouTube.
None is more iconic than that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the beautiful young music student whose death from a militiaman’s bullet was captured in a cell-phone video clip that went viral. The undimmed power of that scene is demonstrated by Iran’s panicky efforts to jam domestic satellite transmissions last week as Voice of America broadcasted the Farsi version of a new HBO documentary, “For Neda.”
The film contains the first public interviews with Neda’s family and testimony from a doctor who tried to save her as she bled to death on the street. Go to YouTube, type in “This is For Neda,” watch the documentary, and weep.
Neda’s death, along with Iran’s torture and murder of so many other protesters, makes a mockery of Ahmadinejad’s efforts to pontificate about the flotilla fiasco — and of reports that the Iranian Red Crescent Society will dispatch its own aid convoy to Gaza. Her indelible image reminds us that the Iranian regime’s claim to legitimacy was shattered by the events of the last year.
The documentary shows clips of bystanders seizing the identity papers of Neda’s killer, apparently a member of the basij militia, whose name it reveals. But Iranian officials were so terrified of Neda’s power in death that they immediately concocted absurd claims about her murder, at one point suggesting that she was a U.S. and British agent who faked her death by pouring blood on her face. Later, they blamed the shooting on a BBC television correspondent in Tehran.
Iran’s intelligence ministry is reportedly due to release its own documentary on Neda’s death. The Guardian of London reports that her family was pressured to cooperate in its making. They bravely refused.
One year after the rigged elections, the Iranian government is also expanding its continuing crackdown on journalists, academics, lawyers, students, clerics, political and rights activists and others who have protested the rigged ballots. Hundreds of them remain in prison, along with members of religious minorities such as the Baha’is, who have been scapegoated for the unrest.
A report released this week by Amnesty International, “From Protest to Prison,” documents widespread torture of Iranian political prisoners, including rapes, mock executions, and electric shocks administered to private parts of the body.
“The Iranian government is determined to silence all dissenting voices, while at the same time trying to avoid all scrutiny by the international community into the violations connected to the postelection unrest,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim secretary general.
Also last week, the U.S.-based Boroumand Foundation, which documents Iranian human-rights violations, released the results of a detailed inquiry into Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners, mostly on charges of apostasy. The report charges the regime with serious breaches of international law. Iranian officials have long covered up the killings, but the report names a long list of current top Iranian officials who it says were directly involved in the atrocity.
These reports are a reminder that — whatever Israel’s errors in the flotilla fiasco and the Gaza blockade — most of those who denounce it loudest are diverting attention from their own sins.
Ahmadinejad blusters that the Gaza events bring Israel “closer to disintegration.” But Neda’s tale reveals a Tehran regime that retains power through force and repression. The U.N. Human Rights Council is due to adopt a final report on Iran, which denies it has committed any violations. The film clips of Neda lay bare the lie.
— Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. firstname.lastname@example.org