july 2009

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'We are all Neda'

Neda Agha-Soltan was fatally shot Saturday, June 20, by Iranian paramilitary forces as she walked down a near-deserted street to join the Iranian election protests. A 27-year-old philosophy student and aspiring musician, Neda (whose name means "voice" or "calling" in Farsi) became the image of Iran's democratic protests, nicknamed the "Angel of Freedom." Her brutal murder was called "heartbreaking" by President Barack Obama and the world embraced her as the iconic symbol of the Iranian freedom movement.

The brutality didn't end with Neda's shooting. According to an un-bylined report on The Guardian's Web site, Iranian authorities forced Neda's family to leave their apartment in east Tehran. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, according to neighbors.

BBC Persian, a Web site run by the BBC in Farsi, quoted a man it described as Agha Soltan's fiance as saying that her body was buried "in a small area in the Zahra Cemetery in the late afternoon" on Sunday, June 21.

'You are neither dead, nor will you die'

The 'Lioness of Iran' Remembers Neda

thumbnailNow 79 and afflicted with macular degeneration that has robbed her of all but her peripheral vision, Simin Behbahani, Iran's national poet, revered as "the lioness of Iran," knows about tyranny in her native land, from the perspective of one who has been both witness to and victim of its iron fist. This past March, during a gathering in Tehran to mark International Women's Day, she was confronted by riot police. A student in the crowd came to her aid, telling the police, "Don't hurt this lady. She is Simin Behbahani. If you touch her, I will set myself on fire."

Enraged by the student's outburst, one officer lashed Behbahani's right arm and back with a whip and then beat her with a club that emitted electric shocks. A passing policeman recognized her, intervened and whisked her into a taxi to safety.

"She has been very fair to tradition and has never sold her pen or soul to any political group or political party. Yet, she is also very political because she has always spoken truth to power. Now some of her poems have become like aphorisms, sayings and proverbs," says Farzaneh M. Milani , director of Studies in Women and Gender at the University of Virginia, who with Kaveh Safa translated some of Behbahani's poems into English in A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems.

In a June 26 interview on National Public Radio, Behbahani said she would like to see an Iran "that has open relationships; an Iran that lives in peace and with friendship with the rest of the world; and an Iran that gets along with peoples of all kind across the world."

She closed the interview by reciting a new poem she had written for the murdered Neda Ahga-Soltan:

You are neither dead, nor will you die
You will always remain alive
You have an eternal existence.
You are the voice of the people of Iran

—David McGee

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