From The Globe and Mail, published on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 12:00AM EST. Last updated on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 3:55AM EST.
Sometimes a single story or moment can awaken the world to injustice. A new journalism prize takes us back to June 20, when a woman was shot during Iran’s abortive Green Revolution, and someone with a cellphone videoed the event. The 2009 George Polk Award for Videography was given anonymously, because few know who captured the woman’s death and uploaded the video to the Internet. But we all know the victim – 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan – because we saw, or can choose to see, her death. The award is a tribute to the bravery of all those who stand in that state’s deadly crosshairs.
To watch the grainy, shaky footage of her final moments is to begin to understand, for 40 seconds, a world of brutality. It begins with Ms. Agha-Soltan already on the ground, supine and bleeding heavily; she has been shot in the chest. A few men rush to try and attend to her. Her eyes roll up and to the right. Blood streams from her mouth, then her nose. Around 20 seconds in, the horror sets in and the men begin to wail. One cries, “Neda, do not be afraid.”
It was too late; she died on that Tehran street: her last words were “I’m burning.”
Ms. Agha-Soltan, a singer and aspiring tourism guide, was no radical. A friend said, “All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted.” Her killers have not been brought to justice, though pro-government paramilitaries have been suspected.
We know little about the video’s makers, but the video itself, rapidly disseminated online, awakened the world to the horror of the Iranian leadership. It is a regime that continues to use internal proxies and its own power to harass or even kill its opponents and block their communication to the outside world.
Neda Agha-Soltan’s death was a tragedy. But sometimes enough facts – a protest, a gunshot, an innocent woman slain – and the human need to chronicle and witness them, can overcome even the most repressive government.