CAIRO – Amateur video of a young Iranian woman lying in the street — blood streaming from her nose and mouth — has quickly become an iconic image of the country's opposition movement and unleashed a flood of outrage at the regime's crackdown.
The footage, less than a minute long, appears to capture the woman's death moments after she was shot at a protest — a powerful example of citizens' ability to document events inside Iran despite government restrictions on foreign media and Internet and phone lines.
The limits imposed amid the unrest over the disputed June 12 election make details of the woman's life and events immediately preceding her apparent death difficult to confirm. But clips of the woman being called Neda are among the most viewed items on YouTube — with untold numbers of people passing along the amateur videos through social networks and watching them on television.
The images entered wide circulation Saturday when two distinct videos purporting to show her death appeared separately on YouTube and Facebook.
They show people trying desperately to treat the woman, who is clad in blue jeans, white sneakers, a black jacket and the headscarf required by Iran's Islamic dress code. Her eyes roll back and blood squirts from her nose, pouring across her face as those trying to help her scream.
"Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid, Neda dear, don't be afraid," a white-haired man in a striped shirt repeats throughout the longer of the videos, his voice escalating throughout.
People posting the video say the woman was shot by a member of the pro-government Basij militia. That information could not be independently verified: Reporters for foreign news organizations have been barred from reporting on the streets of Tehran, and the Iranian government has not released any information about her death.
An acquaintance of her family said Neda worked part-time at a travel agency in Iran and that the government barred the family from holding a public funeral Monday. The acquaintance spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared government reprisal. The Iranian government has banned all public gatherings, though there was no specific information about funerals for those killed in recent clashes.
Although the Iranian government has blocked many Web sites including Facebook and has jammed satellite television signals, the videos of the woman's death have been circulating inside the country. People have used anti-filtering software to download them. Some Iranians have uploaded the footage to their cell phones and used Bluetooth technology to share it.
The bloody imagery alone could have an important impact on public opinion in Iran, where the idea of martyrdom resonates deeply among a populace steeped in the stories and imagery of Shiite Islam, a faith founded on the idea of self-sacrifice in the cause of justice.
The deaths of protesters during the 1979 Islamic Revolution fueled a cycle of mourning marches that contributed to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator, Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Thousands of people inside and outside Iran have written online tributes to the woman, many condemning the government and praising her as a martyr. Some posted photos of a gently smiling woman they said was Neda, some calling her "Iran's Joan of Arc."