At the height of the protests following Iran's controversial presidential election this summer, a young woman named Neda Agha Soltan was shot and killed on the streets of Tehran. Her death -- filmed on a camera phone, then uploaded to the Web -- quickly became an international outrage, and Soltan became the face of a powerful movement that threatened the hard-line government's hold on power.
In A Death in Tehran, FRONTLINE revisits the events of last summer, shedding new light on Neda's life and death and the movement she helped inspire.
In response to the international outcry over Neda's death -- including President Obama's confirmation that he'd seen the "heartbreaking" video on YouTube -- the regime set about attempting to rewrite the story, pointing a finger at the CIA and outside agitators, the same forces they blamed for the mass street protests and allegations of vote rigging that led to the greatest upheaval in Iran since the revolution of 1979. FRONTLINE uncovers some video of Neda's killer -- a member of the Basij militia who'd been brought into Tehran by the regime's Revolutionary Guards to stamp out the "Green Revolution." A medical doctor in the crowd who had watched Neda die now watched as the crowd considered its own violence against the Basij militia member:
"They started to discuss what to do with him," the doctor recalled. "They grabbed his wallet, took out his ID card and started shouting, 'He is a Basiji member; he is one of them,' and started swearing and cursing him, and he was begging for people not to harm him or kill him. ... They believed the police wouldn't do anything to him as the Basiji are really powerful and he would have easily have got away, so in all of the chaos they decided to release him."
The Iranian government admits 11 protesters were killed on June 20, but doctors from three Tehran hospitals confirmed at least 34. Other bodies were buried by security forces without first being identified. In October, the regime tried to script the end of the story for Neda. But instead, Neda's mother made a very public stand. The government offered her financial help if she would blame Neda's death on opponents of the regime. All she had to do was to agree to call Neda a "martyr" for the Islamic Republic. But she refused, telling FRONTLINE: "Neda died for her country not so I could get a monthly income from the Martyr Foundation. If these officials say Neda was a martyr, why do they keep wiping off the word 'martyr' which people write in red on her gravestone?"