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IRAN: Authorities release state-produced documentary on the death of Neda Agha-Soltan

June 29, 2010 |  6:53 am

In its latest attempt to explain the death of the Green Movement's inadvertent icon Neda Agha Soltan, the Iranian regime released a documentary last week to counter the widely accepted narrative of the incident.

It concludes that an unknown woman approached Agha-Soltan and, grabbing a gun in her purse, shot her. 

A police officer announces, “It seems an unknown lady was leaning on the truck with her right hand in her purse, and perhaps she had a gun and shot Neda while her hand was in her purse.”

Soon after Agha-Soltan was killed on June 20, 2009, eyewitnesses reported that a plainclothes security official or militiaman, not the civilian woman highlighted in the film, had shot her in the back.

But the Iranian government video insinuates, ultimately, that the People's Mujahedeen Organization (often known as the exiled terrorist group the MKO) may have played a role in the killing. The MKO is an Islamic Marxist opposition group that the Iranian regime has periodically cited as an instigator of civil unrest. Other more independent sources view them as a small, insignificant and nearly defunct organization.

The logic of the movie becomes a bit clumsy as the MKO is presented as an enemy of the regime as well as responsible for a protester's death.

Neda

The camera wobbles, indie-film style, with spare but ominous piano music heard between scenes. 

A woman identified as a journalist in the film speaks in North American English. 

She interviews individuals identifying themselves as Hamid Panahi, Agha-Soltan’s music instructor who was with her during her assassination; Setareh, a woman who refers to  herself as Agha-Soltan’s best friend; Abbas Kargar Javid, the Basij member accused of shooting her; Hoda, her sister; two forensic specialists; and a police officer.

Almost all of them infer that Agha-Soltan's death was presented inaccurately. The music teacher announces to the reporter, “Hoda’s family will not believe me. But because I don’t support any side, it’s important for me to shed light on Neda’s death. I am a Muslim and I don’t want to lie. I want to show what happened. I want to do what is right.”

Panahi told the Los Angeles Times last June that he blamed the government for his student's murder.

The documentary treats the Basij member accused of shooting Agha-Soltan as the real victim of the tragedy. He speaks with a medical mask over his face. 

“They have posted my ID, phone number and address on the Internet," he says. "So this has forced me to use a mask to live among the people. People from the U.S. got my number on the Internet and call me in the middle of the night and curse at me. I have been forced to leave my residence."

Her best friend implies that Agha-Soltan's death was staged or at least overreported: “Why Neda? Why did her story appear two hours later online? Or why was it that a doctor was coincidentally on the scene? And it was also a question for me that her story was broadcast so fast and received the world’s attention. There are a lot of why’s in my mind.”

The only voice in the video to focus on the injustice of Agha-Soltan's death is her sister. On speaker phone, a voice said in the film to be her sister blasted the Basiji.

"My family wants to thank him for sending my sister to paradise and raising her status among the people," she  says. "The rest is between him, his God and his conscience. Thank him again for causing this pride for our family."

The film comes shortly after HBO released the documentary "For Neda."

Agha-Soltan joined the post-election outrage as a young Iranian woman who felt that her vote had not been counted, said close friends and family of Agha-Soltan in a report in The Times.

The tomb for Agha-Soltan in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran has become something of a national shrine, receiving frequent visitors. Others are not supporters. The tomb has been shot up, repeatedly.

-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Credit: Video and English translation provided by the National Iranian American Council. Photo: A scene from the video shows an unnamed person identified as a journalist, right, speaking to Hamid Panahi, left, Agha-Soltan's music instructor. Credit: The National Iranian American Council.

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