Iconic Iran video was posted in the Netherlands
Published: 23 June 2009 17:50 | Changed: 23 June 2009 18:28
The video showing the death of a 27-year-old girl in Tehran who has become the face of the protests in Iran was posted in the Netherlands by an Iranian asylum seeker.
By Gert Van Langendonck
He only wants to be identified as Hamed. He is an Iranian refugee living in the Netherlands, and it was from there that he posted the now world-famous 38-second video of the death of 27-year-old Neda Salehi Afgha Soltani on the internet.
"I am no hero," Hamed said during a phone interview on Tuesday. "The real hero is my friend who risked his life making the video."
A Facebook friend, that is. Hamed has never met the author of the film except on the social networking site. "Like many Iranians I was very active on Facebook in the run-up to the elections, sharing and spreading information about Mousavi. It was then that we became acquainted."
Last Saturday night, Hamed was busy trying to find out what was happening in Tehran. It was the day after Iran's supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had declared during Friday prayer that the protests had to stop, and people had to accept the victory of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was expected that the Baseej, the regime's street-fighters, would violently suppress any attempted protest, and they did.
"I was communicating with several people in Tehran on Facebook when this friend contacted me. He said a girl had just been shot dead on the street right next to him and he had filmed it all with his cellphone. He asked me if I could publish it on the internet. So I did, on Facebook and on YouTube. I also sent it to the BBC, The Guardian and other media. I was immediately flooded with email."
Within hours the video had been broadcast by CNN, and the subsequent viral spreading of the video over the internet and through the mainstream media made Neda a household name around the world. In Tehran on Tuesday, Neda posters were carried in fresh demonstrations. In Los Angeles, Iranian-American women took to the streets brandishing signs saying: "I am Neda."
Despite the fact that the video was not broadcast by Iranian TV and the Iranian authorities have severely limited access to the internet, Neda's story is as big in Iran as it is outside, Hamed said. "People have it on their cellphones, and they share it over bluetooth."
The Neda story, and how it became known to the world, is part of what some are calling the "Twitter"or "Facebook revolution". Another recent (unsuccessful) "Twitter revolution" was in Moldova. In Iran it is undeniable that new media have been instrumental in getting the story out, especially after the authorities started expelling journalists and banning them from covering the protests. Many Iran pictures in the mainstream media today carry credits like Twitter or Flickr.
But the term "Twitter revolution" is already making some people cringe.
"Calling the Iran protests a ‘Twitter Revolution' is not only distracting but also dangerous because it reduces a legitimate broad-based grassroots movement to what's quickly becoming a cliche," wrote Gaurav Mishra of Global Voices Online, a worldwide community of bloggers. "When the dust settles down on the Iran election crisis, we will see that Twitter was more useful as a media tool and not as an organising tool."
That may be, but Facebook and YouTube certainly helped getting Neda's story out, and the Iranian authorities aren't happy about it. Several media have reported that the Iranian authorities are now doing everything they can to keep Neda from becoming a martyr for the anti-regime protests. Neda's family was stopped from holding a memorial mosque in the neighbourhood where they live.
"The authorities there and the paramilitary group, the Baseej, wouldn't allow it because they were worried it would attract unwanted attention and they didn't want anymore trouble," Neda's fiance Caspian Makan told the BBC. "[They] are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story. So that's why they didn't want a memorial service. They were afraid that lots of people could turn up at the event. So as things stand now, we are not allowed to hold any gatherings to remember Neda."
Hamed, the man who originally posted the video has been in the Netherlands since December last year. He fled Iran and applied for asylum in the Netherlands after police searched his apartment and confiscated some of his writing. Hamed was a blogger who regularly commented on political an religious issues in Iran.
Recent events have given Hamed a new calling in life. His Facebook page says: "This was my private page, during the Iranian Protest, It turned to a news portal, I try my own to publish true and correct news..." (sic)
Interest in Hamed's news portal has soared now that his YouTube page is among the most viewed in the world, and all kinds of media want to talk to him. "I want to show the world what is happening in my country," Hamed said. "That's all."