LONDON, United Kingdom — The grave of Neda Soltan, the Iranian demonstrator whose murder, captured on a cellphone video, became an international symbol for resistance to the Ahmadinejad regime, has been desecrated, according to eyewitnesses in Tehran.
Neda Agha Soltan was killed at the height of the anti-government protests that rocked Iran during the post-election unrest in June. Within hours of her death on the streets of central Tehran, a shocking video of her death went viral, making her the most iconic victim of the Iranian conflict.
Now the Iranian government appears to be trying to stifle all efforts to make her martyr of the resistance.
Despite enormous regime pressure to keep her family silent, Soltan's parents refused to meekly walk off the public stage that circumstances had tragically ushered them onto. Encouraged by the vocal family of a young man who died while in custody, Soltan's mother publicly condemned the Iranian government.
Soltan's boyfriend, Caspian Makan, also refused to keep silent, emerging in the international media to accuse the Islamic Republic of having targeted Soltan for assassination. He was jailed for 65 days on the personal order of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and released in September on the condition he neither speak out nor leave Iran. He fled Iran for an undisclosed location and, although he fears for his safety, he denounced the desecration of Soltan's grave.
“Once again the Islamic Republic of Iran has killed Neda,” said Makan, reached at his secret exile. “This inhuman action only shows that the Islamic Republic is even afraid of the earth Neda lies in.”
Hajjar Agha Soltan discovered that her daughter’s gravestone had been shattered one day after the most recent protests on Nov. 4 during a visit.
“As she was realizing it was broken, she was approached by a three-star police general and the man in charge of security for Behesht-e Zahra (Tehran’s largest cemetery),” said Makan. “They tried to calm her down and told her a 'number of people' came and broke it and we promise you that a new stone will replace it as soon as possible.”
The officials said they did not know who the desecrators were and the stone was repaired by the next day.
Makan believes it unlikely that mourners or other non-state elements would have vandalized the gravesite and points out that the authorities have repeatedly erased graffiti proclaiming Neda Soltan a “martyr.”
A witness wrote in Persian how Hajjar Agha Soltan “was shouting that Neda’s gravestone was completely broken and covered it with flowers so that no-one can find it.”
As more people were attracted to the wailing, some 30 to 40 security officials clustered in the cemetery’s Section 257 to monitor the growing crowd, according to the written testimony. The tumultuous scene was recorded on a mobile phone video that security officials confiscated, smashing the cell phone. But this chilling audio recording from the scene has been posted on the internet. Neda’s mother can be heard screaming in grief as a group of men chant a Muslim prayer.
Iranian authorities buried several of those killed during the recent street violence in Section 257 of the cemetery, creating a focal point for wakes and anniversaries. The spot is usually under surveillance during daylight hours.
“They are always watching it,” said Makan of Neda’s grave. “Before I left Iran, I went very early in the morning to see her grave to avoid the surveillance.”
Ever since this summer, when several hundred thousands of protesters swelled into some of the largest demonstrations since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has made great efforts to repress them before they could coalesce into groups. Ordinary pedestrians crossing through protest areas are likely to be beaten by police and other state agents even if they have not chanted a single anti-government slogan, just because they are suspected of an intention to demonstrate.
Soltan's parents were struck with batons and detained during the last bout of unrest earlier early in November. They told those who detained them that “we came (to the protests) because you destroyed the house of our daughter.”
“It’s good we lost her and we will also disappear you,” the guard who arrested them replied, according to Caspian Makan.
“It’s no longer safe for me to remain quiet,” said Makan, in an interview to Britain’s Observer newspaper . “I have to break my silence.”
Makan is currently in an undisclosed country. He is seeking political refugee status in the West. In an interview he gave a few days after he was smuggled out of Iran, he wants to commemorate Neda Soltan's death by creating a high-profile shrine to her memory in a major Western capital and he would also like to see the production of a “Hollywood film about her life.”