A correspondent in Tehran From The Guardian UK:
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 June 2009 18.00 BST
- Article history
The home of Neda Agha Soltan
The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world.
Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. 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, the neighbours said.
“We just know that they [the family] were forced to leave their flat,” a neighbour said. The Guardian was unable to contact the family directly to confirm if they had been forced to leave.
The government is also accusing protesters of killing Soltan, describing her as a martyr of the Basij militia. Javan, a pro-government newspaper, has gone so far as to blame the recently expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, of hiring “thugs” to shoot her so he could make a documentary film.
Soltan was shot dead on Saturday evening near the scene of clashes between pro-government militias and demonstrators, turning her into a symbol of the Iranian protest movement. Barack Obama spoke of the “searing image” of Soltan’s dying moments at his press conference yesterday.
Amid scenes of grief in the Soltan household with her father and mother screaming, neighbours not only from their building but from others in the area streamed out to protest at her death. But the police moved in quickly to quell any public displays of grief. They arrived as soon as they found out that a friend of Soltan had come to the family flat.
In accordance with Persian tradition, the family had put up a mourning announcement and attached a black banner to the building.
But the police took them down, refusing to allow the family to show any signs of mourning. The next day they were ordered to move out. Since then, neighbours have received suspicious calls warning them not to discuss her death with anyone and not to make any protest.
A tearful middle-aged woman who was an immediate neighbour said her family had not slept for days because of the oppressive presence of the Basij militia, out in force in the area harassing people since Soltan’s death.
The area in front of Soltan’s house was empty today. There was no sign of black cloths, banners or mourning. Secret police patrolled the street.
“We are trembling,” one neighbour said. “We are still afraid. We haven’t had a peaceful time in the last days, let alone her family. Nobody was allowed to console her family, they were alone, they were under arrest and their daughter was just killed. I can’t imagine how painful it was for them. Her friends came to console her family but the police didn’t let them in and forced them to disperse and arrested some of them. Neda’s family were not even given a quite moment to grieve.”
Another man said many would have turned up to show their sympathy had it not been for the police.
“In Iran, when someone dies, neighbours visit the family and will not let them stay alone for weeks but Neda’s family was forced to be alone, otherwise the whole of Iran would gather here,” he said. “The government is terrible, they are even accusing pro-Mousavi people of killing Neda and have just written in their websites that Neda is a Basiji (government militia) martyr. That’s ridiculous – if that’s true why don’t they let her family hold any funeral or ceremonies? Since the election, you are not able to trust one word from the government.” A shopkeeper said he had often met Soltan, who used to come to his store.
“She was a kind, innocent girl. She treated me well and I appreciated her behaviour. I was surprised when I found out that she was killed by the riot police. I knew she was a student as she mentioned that she was going to university. She always had a nice peaceful smile and now she has been sacrificed for the government’s vote-rigging in the presidential election.”