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Neda: Iran's latest martyr

Iran continues to be in ferment, despite the latest ruling of the Guardian Council, which has decreed that the election results showing a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were valid. On Monday, the Council said that it had found evidence of some ‘irregularities’ in the voting of 50 districts, including some cases where the number of votes cast was greater than the number of electors. But it concluded that the overall result of the election was unaffected.

Two of Ahmadinejad’s opponents in the election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, continue to dispute that analysis. Supporters of Mousavi continue to take to the streets in defiance of the ban on demonstrations imposed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and of the continuing crackdown. The groundswell of discontent is increasingly focusing on the regime itself and on the position of Khamenei, who nailed his pro-Ahmadinejad colours to the mast during the election campaign and whose address to the nation during Friday prayers last week put himself in danger of standing or falling with the controversial hardline President. When, under cover of darkness, cries ring out into the Tehran night from apartment buildings calling for ‘Death to the dictator’, they are consciously echoing the slogan of the revolution against the Shah but turning it as much against Khamenei as Ahmadinejad.

Foreign reporters have been denied their normal access as part of the crackdown, which has made the dissemination via the internet of photographs and moving footage from mobile phones a vital resource. The release on YouTube and Facebook of mobile phone footage showing the death by shooting of a young woman, spread like wildfire around the world and within Iran, and prompted a massive outpouring of Persian online grief. The shocking sequence is accessible here to those over 18 years of age.

Neda Soltani

Neda, a 26-year-old philosophy student, was chatting on her mobile phone while walking alongside her music teacher when she was shot, allegedly by a member of the Basij militia. Her death has become an instant symbol and rallying-point – aided by the fact that her given name is an Arabic term for spiritual ‘voice’. She wore jeans and trainers and only a light headscarf, but protesters are elevating her as a martyr – and martyrs have always had enormous resonance in Shi’a Islam.

All mosques in Tehran have been strictly forbidden by the authorities to hold any kind of memorial service for Neda, in a clear acknowledgement of the explosive potential of her image. Her funeral on Sunday will be tightly controlled but the authorities may be less able to repress demonstrations on the seventh day after her death, a traditional point for the mourning of a Shi’a martyr.

For more background on Ahmadinejad's Iran, including the role of the blogosphere in resistance, see New Internationalist 398.

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