The Neda video that has become viral on YouTube has given the Iranian movement protesting the June 12 elections results a face. What many are calling a popular revolution has taken on the visage of Neda Soltani, a 16-year-old female shot while attending demonstrations in Tehran, Iran. The Neda Video has been seen worldwide, causing an outpouring of support for the protesters and condemnation of the brutal methods the Iranian government has employed to suppress relatively peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people. The graphic Neda video is being used to further the cause of those pushing for democratic reforms in Iran.
Not a lot of reports or images are getting out of Iran at present, the government having shut down most means of communication last week. But what has gotten out (and continues to exit the troubled country) is disturbing. News of vicious crackdowns by the Basij, a government-sanctioned paramilitary militia that acts as a policing unit, have been reported. Clashes between protesters and authorities are reportedly occurring. Door-to-door house invasions and searches have also been reported.
The demonstrations started soon after the results were announced in the Iran general elections. Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi was expected by many to win, or if not win, at least give incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stiff competition. When the results were announced giving Ahmadinejad the victory by an overwhelming 62% of the popular vote, hundreds of thousands thronged the streets of the cities and towns of Iran, most converging on the streets of the capital, Tehran.
Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, with little reported violence, until Saturday’s clashes between the Basij and demonstrators. The day before, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the people of Iran to stop demonstrating and accept the results of the election, which had been sanctioned by Iran’s Guardian Council, the group of clerics that oversee all political, religious, and social issues in Iran. Khamenei warned that if protests continued, those responsible for them would be held accountable.
But Khamenei seems to have miscalculated the political atmosphere, not to mention his own loss of credibility when he and the Guardian Council announced that President Ahmadinejad had won the election. Many did not believe that Ahmadinejad won. Even more believed his victory came through fraudulent means, such as stuffing ballot boxes. And Khamenei’s and the Guardian Council’s blessing of the results came far too quickly for many, giving Ahmadinejad the official victory in one day instead of waiting for the customary three days normally adhered to in order to ward off problems with an election.
And there were definitely problems with the June 12 election.
The next day, during a demonstration Saturday, Neda Soltani was shot and killed, a video of the incident capturing her last moments. The video made it out of Iran. Via YouTube, millions of people around the world expressed their outrage. The social networking website Twitter was swamped with traffic about the revolution occurring in Iran and talk of Neda as a martyr was one of the hottest trends. There was even a switchover application for users to change their icons to green to show solidarity with the demonstrators.
All revolutions need at least three things: a cause, methods of effective communication, and a face. The cause presented as a need for democratic governmental reform and was underlined by what appeared to be fraudulent election processes. The internet and cellphones have provided organizers and individual protesters to communicate rallying places, update events, and inform. Even when the government took control of the nation’s television services and other telecommunications outlets, the use of cellphones — and their connectivity with satellites — have allowed protesters to communicate effectively through Twitter and also get images and messages out to the rest of the world. And as for a face, most revolutions are identified with the face of its leader or a fallen martyr — Castro, Guevara, Mandela, etc. Neda Soltani provided Iran’s new populist revolution with a martyr — and a face. The graphic video of her death galvanized opposition to the current Iranian regime.
According to CNN, demonstrators showed up Monday at the spot where Neda was shot in open defiance of the government’s Revolutionary Guard statement that any protests would be met with a strong response. Notices on Twitter and Facebook and an opposition leader’s website called for a vigil in honor of Neda but it was unclear as to how many were there because of the vigil. There were no signs or placards and some were dressed in black, but the crowd appeared along with security forces at the time allotted for the vigil.
There have been reports of minor clashes between demonstrators and police forces Monday as well.
Hospitals in Iran reported that at least 19 people were killed in Saturdays confrontations. The government of Iran confirmed that 13 were killed. Unofficial estimates place the death toll at 150.
The Iranian government also announced that 457 people were arrested for vandalizing property during the demonstrations.