On Tuesday, the New York Times devoted two front-page stories and an Op-Ed to the death of Neda Agha-Soltan in Tehran on Sat., Jun. 20.  --  "Her death is stirring wide outrage in a society that is infused with the culture of martyrdom," Nazila Fatih wrote.[1]  --  On his website, Mehdi Karroubi, one of the defeated candidates in the Jun. 12 Iranian presidential election, called Neda a martyr:  “A young girl, who did not have a weapon in her soft hands, or a grenade in her pocket, became a victim of thugs who are supported by a horrifying intelligence apparatus.”  --  Little is known about her:  "Her friends and relatives were mostly afraid to speak, and the government broke up public attempts to mourn her.  She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons — women are barred from singing publicly in Iran.  Her name means voice in Persian, and many are now calling her the voice of Iran."  --  The government is reported to have "ordered the family to bury Ms. Agha-Soltan immediately and barred family members from holding a memorial service."  --  "[T]he very public adulation of Ms. Agha-Soltan could create a religious symbol for the opposition and sap support for the government among the faithful who believe Islam abhors killing innocent civilians," Nazila Fatih said.  --  A second front-page story in the Times focused on the media angle of the story and the government of Iran's efforts to control it.  --  The information wars in the aftermath of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan are an example of "the new arena of censorship in the 21st century, a world where cellphone cameras, Twitter accounts, and all the trappings of the World Wide Web have changed the ancient calculus of how much power governments actually have to sequester their nations from the eyes of the world and make it difficult for their own people to gather, dissent, and rebel," Brian Stelter and Brad Stone said.[2]  --  The Iran crisis is "a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age — and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets," they said.  --  Government agents are now "[t]hreatening people who have cameras," and this is "only the latest in a series of steps by the authorities."  --  "Even before the election, the country was known to operate one of the world’s most sophisticated Web filtering systems, with widespread blockades on specific Web sites," said Stelter and Stone. "According to a spate of news reports in April, including one in the Washington Times, some of the monitoring technology was provided by Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture of Nokia, the Finnish cellphone maker, and Siemens, the German technology giant."  --  In an Op-Ed, Roger Cohen reported seeing a prayer after her death broken up when "the regular city police joined in.  This was too much for the Basij militia, the regime’s plainclothes shock troops, who arrived on motorbikes and, wielding sticks, broke up the gathering of about 60 people."[3]  --  Cohen described the Basijis as "[t]eenagers, brainwashed from early childhood, scarcely able to grow a feeble beard, they have been ferried into the capital in large numbers, given a club and a shield and a helmet and told to go to work."  --  He pointed out that "Martyrdom is a powerful force in the world of Shia Islam.  Mourning on the third and seventh and 40th days after a death form a galvanizing cycle.  Hers is already another name for the anger smoldering here, whose expression, in my experience, has been bravest and most vivid among women."  --  A link to the video (warning: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC) showing Neda Agha-Soltan's death is also posted below.[4]  --  In 36 hours, hundreds of people have contributed to the Wikipedia article about her death.[5] ...

1.

World

Middle East

IN A DEATH SEEN AROUND THE WORLD, A SYMBOL OF IRANIAN PROTESTS
By Nazila Fatih

New York Times
June 22, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/middleeast/23neda.html

[PHOTO CAPTION: Frames from a YouTube video of Neda Agha-Soltan's death. Opposition web sites and television channels have repeatedly aired the video, which shows blood gushing from her body as she dies.]

TEHRAN -- It was hot in the car, so the young woman and her singing instructor got out for a breath of fresh air on a quiet side street not far from the antigovernment protests they had ventured out to attend. A gunshot rang out, and the woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, fell to the ground. “It burned me,” she said before she died.

The bloody video of her death on Saturday, circulated in Iran and around the world, has made Ms. Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old who relatives said was not political, an instant symbol of the antigovernment movement.

Her death is stirring wide outrage in a society that is infused with the culture of martyrdom -- although the word itself has become discredited because the government has pointed to the martyrs’ deaths of Iranian soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war to justify repressive measures.

Ms. Agha-Soltan’s fate resonates particularly with women, who have been at the vanguard of many of the protests throughout Iran.

“I am so worried that all the sacrifices that we made in the past week, the blood that was spilled, would be wasted,” said one woman who came to mourn Ms. Agha-Soltan on Monday outside Niloofar mosque here. “I cry every time I see Neda’s face on TV.”

Opposition Web sites and television channels, which Iranians view with satellite dishes, have repeatedly shown the video, in which blood can be seen gushing from Ms. Agha-Soltan’s body as she dies. By Monday evening, there already were 6,860 entries for her on the Persian-language Google Web site. Some Web sites suggest changing the name of Kargar Street, where she was killed, to Neda Street.

Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition candidate for president in this month’s election, called her a martyr on his Web site. “A young girl, who did not have a weapon in her soft hands, or a grenade in her pocket, became a victim of thugs who are supported by a horrifying intelligence apparatus.”

Only scraps of information are known about Ms. Agha-Soltan. Her friends and relatives were mostly afraid to speak, and the government broke up public attempts to mourn her. She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons — women are barred from singing publicly in Iran. Her name means voice in Persian, and many are now calling her the voice of Iran.

Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, contributed to a Persian Wikipedia entry. He said she never supported any particular presidential candidate. “She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody,” the entry read.

Her singing instructor, Hamid Panahi, offered a glimpse of her last moments.

He said the two of them decided to head home after being caught in a clash with club-wielding forces in central Tehran. They stepped out of the car. “We heard one gunshot, and the bullet came and hit Neda right in the chest,” he said. The shot was fired from the rooftop of a private house across the street, perhaps by a sniper, he said. On a Facebook posting along with the video, an anonymous doctor said he tried to save her but failed because the bullet hit her heart.

“She was so full of life,” said a relative who spoke on condition of anonymity. “She sang pop music.”

The relative said the government had ordered the family to bury Ms. Agha-Soltan immediately and barred family members from holding a memorial service.

The paramilitary forces were quick to stop memorial services elsewhere, too. More than a dozen bearded men on motorcycles dispersed nearly 70 people gathered outside Niloofar mosque on Monday. Authorities ordered the mosques not to hold services for any victims of the demonstrations over the past few days.

“Go, get lost,” they shouted, as the regular police stood by.

But one police officer, watching the militia, said a prayer aloud with the crowd in her honor: “Peace be upon the prophet and her family.”

As Ms. Agha-Soltan’s family held a private ceremony on Monday, they turned reporters away and refused to speak. “They were not allowed to hang even a black banner,” the relative said.

Funerals have long served as a political rallying point in Iran, since it is customary to have a week of mourning and a large memorial service 40 days after a death. In the 1979 revolution, that cycle generated a constant supply of new protests and deaths.

But the narrative of death has also been important in the lore surrounding the existence of the Islamic Republic.

The government portrayed itself in the role of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad killed by a far larger army during the seventh-century struggle within Islam, which gave birth to the Shiite sect that predominates in Iran.

Days for prophets and saints believed killed in the service of the faith dot the holiday calendar, taking up 22 days of the year.

So the very public adulation of Ms. Agha-Soltan could create a religious symbol for the opposition and sap support for the government among the faithful who believe Islam abhors killing innocent civilians.

One poem circulating on the Internet explicitly linked her death to other symbols of the protest movement:

Stay, Neda --
Look at this city
At the shaken foundations of palaces,
The height of Tehran’s maple trees,
They call us “dust,” and if so
Let us sully the air for the oppressor
Don’t go, Neda

She has become the public face of an unknown number of Iranians who have died in the protests. While state television has reported 10 deaths and state radio 19, it is widely believed the total is much higher.

A witness said the body of a 19-year-old man who was killed in Tehran on Sunday was given to the family only after it paid $5,000.

For many Iranians, though, the death of a young woman has special meaning.

“We know a lot of people have died, but it is so hard to see a woman, so young and innocent, die like this,” a 41-year-old who gave his name as Alireza said Monday.

Women were particular targets after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to strictly enforce previously loosened restrictions. Thousands of women were arrested or intimidated because they did not adhere precisely to Islamic dress code on the streets.

Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading opposition candidate, campaigned along with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and other prominent Iranian women rallied to his side as he promised to improve the status of women.

A woman called Hana posted a comment on Mr. Karroubi’s Web site: “I am alive but my sister was killed. She wanted the wind to blow into her hair; she wanted to be free; she wanted to hold her head high up and say: I am Iranian. My sister died because there is no life left; my sister died because there is no end to tyranny.”

--Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from New York.

2.

World

Middle East

WEB PRIES LID OF IRANIAN CENSORSHIP
by Brian Stelter and Brad Stone

New York Times
June 22, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/middleeast/23censor.html

Shortly after Neda Agha-Soltan bled her life out on the Tehran pavement, the man whose 40-second video of her death has ricocheted around the world made a somber calculation in what has become the cat-and-mouse game of evading Iran’s censors. He knew that the government had been blocking Web sites like YouTube and Facebook. Trying to send the video there could have exposed him and his family.

Instead, he e-mailed the two-megabyte video to a nearby friend, who quickly forwarded it to the Voice of America, the newspaper the *Guardian* in London, and five online friends in Europe, with a message that read, “Please let the world know.” It was one of those friends, an Iranian expatriate in the Netherlands, who posted it on Facebook, weeping as he did so, he recalled.

Copies of the video, as well as a shorter one shot by another witness, spread almost instantly to YouTube and were televised within hours by CNN. Despite a prolonged effort by Iran’s government to keep a media lid on the violent events unfolding on the streets, Ms. Agha-Soltan was transformed on the Web from a nameless victim into an icon of the Iranian protest movement.

At one time, authoritarian regimes could draw a shroud around the events in their countries by simply snipping the long-distance phone lines and restricting a few foreigners. But this is the new arena of censorship in the 21st century, a world where cellphone cameras, Twitter accounts, and all the trappings of the World Wide Web have changed the ancient calculus of how much power governments actually have to sequester their nations from the eyes of the world and make it difficult for their own people to gather, dissent, and rebel.

Iran’s sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age -- and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.

One early lesson is that it is easier for Iranian authorities to limit images and information within their own country than it is to stop them from spreading rapidly to the outside world. While Iran has severely restricted Internet access, a loose worldwide network of sympathizers has risen up to help keep activists and spontaneous filmmakers connected.

The pervasiveness of the Web makes censorship “a much more complicated job,” said John Palfrey, a co-director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The Berkman Center estimates that about three dozen governments -- as widely disparate as China, Cuba, and Uzbekistan -- extensively control their citizens’ access to the Internet. Of those, Iran is one of the most aggressive. Mr. Palfrey said the trend during this decade has been toward more, not less, censorship. “It’s almost impossible for the censor to win in an Internet world, but they’re putting up a good fight,” he said.

Since the advent of the digital age, governments and rebels have dueled over attempts to censor communications. Text messaging was used to rally supporters in a popular political uprising in Ukraine in 2004 and to threaten activists in Belarus in 2006. When Myanmar sought to silence demonstrators in 2007, it switched off the country’s Internet network for six weeks. Earlier this month, China blocked sites like YouTube to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

In Iran, the censorship has been more sophisticated, amounting to an extraordinary cyberduel. It feels at times as if communications within the country are being strained through a sieve, as the government slows down Web access and uses the latest spying technology to pinpoint opponents. But at least in limited ways, users are still able to send Twitter messages, or tweets, and transmit video to one another and to a world of online spectators.

Because of the determination of those users, hundreds of amateur videos from Tehran and other cities have been uploaded to YouTube in recent days, providing television networks with hours of raw -- but unverified -- video from the protests.

The Internet has “certainly broken 30 years of state control over what is seen and is unseen, what is visible versus invisible,” said Navtej Dhillon, an analyst with the Brookings Institution.

But taking pictures is an increasingly dangerous act in Iran. The police in Tehran confronted citizens who were trying to film near a memorial to Ms. Agha-Soltan on Monday.

Threatening people who have cameras is only the latest in a series of steps by the authorities. On June 12, the day a disputed presidential election set off the protests, the government summarily shut down all text messaging in the country -- the prime tool that government opponents had been using to keep in touch -- making new tools like Twitter and old techniques like word of mouth more important for organizing.

In the days that followed, Iran has tightened the spigot without closing it entirely. Even before the election, the country was known to operate one of the world’s most sophisticated Web filtering systems, with widespread blockades on specific Web sites. According to a spate of news reports in April, including one in the *Washington Times*, some of the monitoring technology was provided by Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture of Nokia, the Finnish cellphone maker, and Siemens, the German technology giant.

The day after the election, Iran’s state-controlled telecommunications provider completely dropped off the Internet for more than an hour, according to Renesys, an Internet monitoring company. Access was partly restored two days later, a Monday. YouTube said traffic to the site from within Iran was down about 90 percent last week, indicating that most -- but not all -- connections had been stopped or slowed. Facebook said traffic from Iran was down by more than half since the election.

Whether for political, social, or financial reasons, Iran has been hesitant to shut off its sterilized Internet access entirely. Some have reasoned that a complete halt would hurt businesses.

Still, the off-and-on Web connections and government threats imposed a kind of self-censorship on some of the population, one that is also evident in other countries with authoritarian governments, Mr. Palfrey said.

Some Iranians have harnessed ways to bypass the system, relying in part on supporters around the world who are offering their computers as so-called proxy servers, which are digital safe houses that can strip out identifying information and allow Iranians to view blocked Web sites. Tor, a volunteer-run tool for masking Internet traffic that bounces Internet connections off three separate computers, said the traffic emanating from Iran over the course of the week increased tenfold.

Despite the crackdown, the videos and tweets indicate to many that broadly distributed Internet tools -- and the spirit of young, tech-savvy people -- cannot be completely repressed by an authoritarian government.

“You can’t take the entire Internet and try to lock it in a little box in your country, as China continuously attempts to do,” said Richard Stiennon, founder of IT-Harvest, a Web security research firm. “There are just too many ways now to find paths around blockages. They would have to ban the Internet entirely, or build their own network.”

That may not be so far-fetched. Experts say China is in its own league for filtering. Ethan Zuckerman, a colleague of Mr. Palfrey’s at the Berkman Center, said China has “baked in the censorship” for its citizens by building its own Web sites and tools. Recently it said it would require so-called Green Dam filtering software to be installed on all computers sold in the country, prompting a complaint from the United States government and most likely kicking off yet another round of cat-and-mouse.

--Brian Stelter reported from New York, and Brad Stone from San Francisco. Reporting was contributed by Michael Slackman from Cairo, Steven Lee Myers from Baghdad, Noam Cohen from New York, and an employee of the *New York Times* from Tehran.

3.

Opinion

LIFE AND DEATH IN TEHRAN
By Roger Cohen

New York Times
June 22, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/opinion/23cohenweb.html

--This is an updated version of an earlier column, "Iran's Children of Tomorrow."

TEHRAN -- They gathered, the women in black, at Nilofar Square to mourn Neda Agha Soltan, the Iranian student cut down by a single bullet, whose last moments were captured on a video that has gone global.

I sat among the mourners in late afternoon, under the plane trees, as candles burned and a prayer was said. The square seemed an oasis. I asked a young woman if she was scared. “Yes,” she said. “I’m scared that all the blood shed for this cause may be wasted.”

The cause, of course, is the annulment of Iran’s fraudulent election and, beyond that, freedom. The freedom not to live in a state that slams shut the doors of the mosque next to Nilofar Square because Neda, as a protester, was denied a proper service.

As the sound of the prayer rose, the regular city police joined in. This was too much for the Basij militia, the regime’s plainclothes shock troops, who arrived on motorbikes and, wielding sticks, broke up the gathering of about 60 people.

I’d watched the forces mocked as the “Joojeh Basiji” -- the “chicken Basiji” -- the day before. Teenagers, brainwashed from early childhood, scarcely able to grow a feeble beard, they have been ferried into the capital in large numbers, given a club and a shield and a helmet and told to go to work.

I saw them throughout downtown Tehran on Sunday, in the back of gray pickups, sporting sleeveless camouflage vests, in clusters on corners, leaning on trees near Revolution Square.

They are far from alone in a city in military lockdown. Elite riot police with thigh-length black leg guards, helmeted Revolutionary Guards in green uniforms, and rifle-touting snipers compose a panoply of menace. The message to protesters is clear: Gather at your peril.

Still, these mourners did gather for Neda, killed on Saturday. Martyrdom is a powerful force in the world of Shia Islam. Mourning on the third and seventh and 40th days after a death form a galvanizing cycle. Hers is already another name for the anger smoldering here, whose expression, in my experience, has been bravest and most vivid among women.

Tehran, cradled in its mountainous amphitheater, is holding its breath. Sunday was quiet, Monday a little less so. Still, as night falls, the defiant cries of “Death to the dictator” and “Allah-u-Akbar” (“God is great”) reverberate between high rises.

In this pregnant lull, I keep hearing three questions: Will Mir Hussein Mousavi lead? How powerful are the internal divisions of the revolutionary establishment? And what is the ultimate goal of the uprising?

On the answers will hinge the outcome of this latest fervid expression of Iran’s centennial quest for pluralistic freedom.

After the shootings Saturday evening that took several lives, Mousavi seemed absent. The bespectacled revolutionary leader thrust now into defiance was silent. Disappointed in 1999 and 2003 by the legalistic kowtowing of the reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami, people feared resignation redux, even if Mousavi has declared the vote “null and void.”

Then, early Monday, Mousavi spoke again. “Protesting to lies and fraud is your right,” he said, referring to the preposterous manipulation of the election, and confronting again the hitherto sacrosanct pronouncements of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader invested by the Islamic Revolution with authority close to the Prophet’s. Last Friday, Khamenei said: “I want everyone to end this sort of action.”

Khamenei also said, “Trust in the Islamic Republic became evident in these elections.”

In fact, I believe the loss of trust by millions of Iranians who’d been prepared to tolerate a system they disliked, provided they had a small margin of freedom, constitutes the core political earthquake in Iran. Moderates who once worked the angles are now muttering about making Molotov cocktails.

Mousavi is trying to calm their rage and coax the multiple security forces to his side. The problem is he’s not visible enough. Restraint was the core of his appeal Monday. He urged his followers to adopt parental forbearance before the “misbehavior” of security forces -- an appropriate reference given the teenage thugs out there.

I think Mousavi’s right to avoid extreme positions even as Khamenei has radicalized the conflict. He’s right because his moderation fans internal divisions. Any counter-revolutionary stance would have the opposite effect.

Which brings me to the fight within. On Sunday, I saw Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of the establishment’s embittered éminence grise, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He told me his father, who despises President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is fighting a rear-guard action to have the election annulled by the Guardian Council, the 12-member body that will pronounce this week on the election’s legality.

The ruling had seemed a formality, given Khamenei’s summary dismissal of a recount, but the council is now talking about irregularities in 50 cities that could affect three million votes. Out of a total of 40 million votes, that’s a significant number, although not enough to change the outcome.

There are rumblings from the influential parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, who is close to Khamenei but not Ahmadinejad. With Rafsanjani, Khatami, and the defeated conservative former Revolutionary Guard leader, Mohsen Rezai, the dissenting front is broad. Rezai, who officially won 680,000 votes, says more than 900,000 voters have written to him with their ID numbers saying they voted for him.

The third question -- the strategic goal of the uprising -- is increasingly fraught. Khamenei said, “The dispute is not between the revolution and the counter-revolution.” He would have been right if his words had been spoken the day after the vote.

Ten days on, the brutal use of force and his own polarizing speech have drawn many more Iranians toward an absolutist stance. Having wanted their vote back, they now want wholesale change. If Moussavi is to prevail, he must keep his followers tactically focused, for now, on a new election. It’s the one position the opposition within the clerical establishment will go along with.

Whatever happens now, all is changed in Iran. Opacity, a numbing force, has yielded to a transparency in which one side confronts another. The online youth of Iran will not be reconciled to a regime that touts global “justice” while trampling it at home.

I received this from an anonymous Iranian student: “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to be killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow!”

And she concludes: “I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so that they know we were not just emotional under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children.”

I bow my head to the youth of Iran, the youth that is open-eyed, bold, and far more numerous than the near-beardless vigilantes. One such youth was Neda, whose music teacher, Hamid Panahi, was at her side when she died. I asked Panahi if she said anything after the bullet struck. “Yes,” he told me, “She said, ‘Mr. Panahi, I burnt.’”

4.

[Video]

GIRL SHOT DEAT BY POLICE/BASIJ MILITIA IN TEHRAN JUNE 20 2009 -- ANOTHER VERSION (18+) RIP NEDA JOON ['DEAR NEDA']

YouTube
June 20, 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBVX9Wk91_g

5.

DEATH OF NEDA AGHA-SOLTAN

Wikipedia
Article begun June 21, 2009