"Most Widely Witnessed Death"

On this day in 2009, during the Iranian election protests, the death of Neda Agha-Soltan was captured on video and spread virally on the Internet, making it “probably the most widely witnessed death in human history.” Her death went on to become a rallying point for the Iranian opposition.

The Iranian election protests began on 13 June 2009 as thousands of protestors around the world disputed the victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and marched in favour of opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Each of the three opposition candidates claimed the election was rigged and the votes manipulated, with two lodging official complaints. Those complaints gave new life to the protests, which were given a number of titles including Green Revolution, Green Wave, Sea of Green, each reflecting the campaign colour of candidate Mousavi, and Persian Awakening. The events were also nicknamed the Twitter Revolution, due to protestors’ reliance on Twitter and other social networking sites to communicate with each other and the world.

Among the more controversial aspects of the protests were the roles of the Iranian police and the Basij, an Iranian paramilitary group. They suppressed peaceful demonstrations and more violent rioting alike using batons, pepper spray, sticks, and in some cases, firearms. As a result of the demonstrations and the subsequent suppression, there were some 36 (according to the Iranian government) or 72 (according to Mousavi supporters) deaths. Among them was Neda Agha-Soltan.

An aspiring underground musician, Agha-Soltan was generally apolitical but had been drawn into the protest movement due to her anger over the election results. On 20 June 2009 around 6:30 in the evening, Agha-Soltan was in her Peugeot 206, sitting in traffic on Kargar Avenue in Tehran. She and her music teacher, Hamid Panahi, were on their way to participate in the protests. The car’s air conditioner was not working well, so Agha-Soltan stopped her car and got out on foot to escape the heat. Still some distance from the main protests, she was standing and observing the demonstrations when she was shot in the chest by a Basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house.

She collapsed to the ground and was tended to by nearby doctor Arash Hejazi, her music teacher, and others from the crowd as someone in the crowd shouted “She has been shot! Someone come and take her!” As Dr. Hejazi tried to stanch her wound with his hands, but would later say, “The impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than two minutes.” Her last words were “I’m burning, I’m burning!”

A bystander shot an amateur video of the entire event, which went viral on the Internet, quickly gaining the international media’s attention. After being pronounced dead in Tehran’s Shari’ati hospital, Agha-Soltan was buried in the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran. Agha-Soltan became an iconic figure in the struggle of Iranian protestors.