The killing of Neda Agha Soltan & an extract from The Gaze of the Gazelle

  • Arash Hejazi, portrait by John Angerson
    Arash Hejazi John Angerson

Arash Hejazi witnessed the shooting of Iranian student Soltan in Tehran in 2009. What he did next would rock the regime – and change his life for ever

The house is part of a bland new estate on the western edge of Oxford. In its sparsely furnished living room, the floor littered with toys, a young boy is playing computer games. His mother is making coffee, but his father, though physically present, is mentally a thousand miles away from this mundane scene. He is on his laptop, watching camera-phone footage of an event that has changed his life for ever, and may eventually be seen as the beginning of the end of one of the world’s most pernicious regimes.

The jerky, 47-second clip shows an attractive young woman wearing jeans and sneakers beneath a long black coat. She is outside on a street, and being lowered gently to the ground by two men. One has grey hair tied back in a ponytail. The other is younger and wears a white shirt and jeans.

As she lies on her back, the woman’s brown eyes swivel sideways towards the camera. “Don’t be afraid, Neda. Don’t be afraid,” the older man implores her. Suddenly a stream of dark red blood spurts from her mouth and runs down the side of her face. Then a second stream of blood gushes from her nose, drowning an eye.

There is panic in the voices of those around her. “Stay, Neda. Stay with me!” the first man cries. “Open her mouth. Open her airways,” yells the man in the white shirt as he presses on a wound in her chest in a desperate attempt to save her. Seconds later it is all over. The woman is dead. An onlooker holds out his hands, palms open, in apparent despair and bewilderment.

The woman was, of course, Neda Agha Soltan, the 27-year-old Iranian student shot dead during one of the massive street protests that rocked Tehran following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blatantly rigged re-election in June 2009. The man with the ponytail was her music teacher, and the man in the white shirt is Arash Hejazi, 40, a doctor-turned-publisher who is now sitting in his rented house in Oxford watching the video clip.

This thoughtful, softly spoken Iranian has watched the footage 100 times before, and with good reason. He could so easily have left the scene, washed Soltan’s blood from his hands and kept silent. Instead he took a stand. He resolved to let the world know what the regime had done to Soltan, how evil had destroyed innocence. In a forthcoming book, The Gaze of the Gazelle, he reveals how he himself posted the video on the internet within an hour of her death. He recounts how, as the regime did its best to discredit the footage that had ricocheted around the planet and made Soltan a symbol of its barbarity, he fled to Britain and told the world how she had been shot by a government militiaman.

Read the rest of this article here