Neda Agha Soltan[i], her white-haired father (or was he, as some accounts suggest, her music teacher?) beside her, falls stricken in Tehran on 20 June, her headscarf and black jacket falling aside. She has just been shot in the chest, apparently by a member of the Basiij militia, while observing a demonstration against alleged election irregularities.
A Youtube video of her dying moments has become one of the defining images of the post-election Iranian protests.
Amnesty International has today issued a public statement saying that “Following reports from Iran that members of the Basij militia have used excessive force against demonstrators – and in light of the history of abuses committed by this unaccountable branch of the security forces – Amnesty International calls on the government of Iran to stop using the militia to police demonstrations with immediate effect. The Basij militia is a volunteer paramilitary force of men and women under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Its members are found in schools, universities, state and private institutions, factories, and even among tribes. Basij forces are widely used to help to maintain law and order and repress dissent, and have frequently been accused of using extreme brutality. Many of those who took part in the recent demonstrations claim non – uniformed and armed personnel, whom they believed to be members of the Basij militia, used excessive force and carried out human rights violations – including beatings and use of firearms – against demonstrators on the streets. A video of a member of the Basij shooting from an building used by the Basij during the demonstrations on Monday 15 June in which at least 8 people were killed should have triggered an immediate investigation by the authorities and clear instructions should have been issued to prevent further loss of life. Another video of a young woman identified as Neda, dying apparently from a chest wound, has been widely circulated amid claims of involvement of Basij members. The response of the Iranian authorities has not been to open a proper investigation to clarify the circumstances of any death but rather to issue further warnings that protests will be handled in a ‘revolutionary manner’ by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Basij militia and other police and security forces … Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities to investigate fully all reports of death, including possible extrajudicial executions, and to bring anyone found responsible to justice”. The Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said in a statement circulated by Amnesty that “Iranians wishing to peacefully express their opposition to recent events surrounding the election have no space to do so, as they are met with violence that has been legitimized by the highest authority in the land … It’s time for the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protest and to remove the Basij from the streets. The policing of any demonstrations should be left to the police or other security forces which are properly trained and equipped … Recent statements from the police, who denied opening fire on protestors, and from the Tehran Prosecutor-General, who blamed the killings on ‘armed terrorists’, look like an attempt to disassociate state organs from responsibility for violence … This is all the more reason to stop using the Basij as there is no way for the public to even identify them, let alone bring them to account for violations. If the Iranian authorities are not able to control such a militia, they should disband it. It is irresponsible to provide weapons and then to relinquish responsibility when abuses occur”.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson said, in response to questions from journalists at today’s regular briefing in Washington DC, that “This is about Iranians and the Iranians having their rights to express themselves, be respected, their political will be respected. The President made a very strong statement, I thought, standing very firmly behind those who want to have their views respected, want to be able to peaceably assemble, want to have access to the media. So right now, our focus is on this very dramatic situation unfolding inside Iran … this is a very rapidly evolving situation … But again, right now, we want to see this process worked out in a way that the will of the Iranian people is respected …
QUESTION: And also, there was this case of the young woman who died —
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — Neda, I believe. Is the Secretary aware of that? Is she making any comments about the role of women in this, which is significant?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think that, as I said before … It’s been, frankly, very difficult, as it is for all of you, really, to get good, hard, confirmable information about what’s going on because of the inability of the media, of representatives of your organizations to really cover the situation. It’s been dangerous on the streets, so foreign diplomats, of course, have had difficulty as well. She is following this situation with great concern, and as I said, these are very dramatic and very distressing images that we see. Most distressing of all is the image of this young woman covered in blood”.
And, in a statement issued through the UNSG’s spokeswoman Michele Montas, the UN said that UNSG BAN Ki-Moon “has been following with growing concern the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and is dismayed by the post-election violence, particularly the use of force against civilians, which has led to the loss of life and injuries. He calls on the authorities to respect fundamental civil and political rights, especially the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of information. The situation in Iran is of concern to the international community … [The UNSG] urges an immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force. The Secretary-General reiterates his hope that the democratic will of the people of Iran will be fully respected”.
UPDATE: For this, UNSG BAN got a rebuke from Iran, telling him to mind his own business.
Two months ago, in the West Bank town of Bil’in, occupied Palestinian territory, Basem Abu Rahmeh, fell stricken on 17 April, during a regular Friday protest at part of Israel’s Wall which is clearly a fence, where it runs through a rural unpopulated area. Though he was standing on a hill, and was clearly not one of the few protesters who is down by the fence, challenging the Israeli Border Police and/or IDF soldiers, Basem was shot in the chest by a new type of hardened, extended range, high-velocity (“rocket”) tear-gas cannister, which is said to move as fast as live ammunition. His last breaths were taken in a cloud of tear gas, and he died minutes later.
It is reported that Basem Abu Rahmeh was related (brother or cousin) to the Nil’in protester (Ashraf Abu Rahma),who was detained, blindfolded, then shot in the foot by one of the Israeli soldiers/police using a rubber-coated steel bullet, on the orders of his direct commander (it was later said to be a joke) on 20 July 2008r. But the poor guy fainted, thinking he was about to die. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has posted information on this here. An Al-Jazeera television report using the B’Tselem video can also be viewed here.
Unfortunately, Basem, like Neda, did die.
The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the military to move the Wall/fence in Bil’in closer to the Matityahu East settlement ‘outpost’, but nothing has happened, and the weekly protest demonstrations continue.
This Youtube video shows everything — and even recorded some of the bad language used on the Palestinian side (which would not have been heard by the Israeli forces, and which in any case is not worse than insults that are routinely shouted in regular traffic in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in this corner of the world).
According to one report, here, “Seconds before the shooting, Basem had been pleading with the soldiers to hold their fire, shouting ‘we are in a nonviolent protest, there are kids and internationals…’.
Like Neda. Basem Abu Rahmah was at a peaceful protest, and he was killed.
There was no statement from Amnesty International.
There was no comment from the U.S. State Department spokesperson.
There was no statement issued in the name of the UNSG.
There was a small but lively demonstration in Tel Aviv, however, condemning the death of Basem, and all the unnecessary and brutal attacks on the peaceful demonstrators against The Wall in Bil’in.
And the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem wrote in April, again, to the Israeli state prosecutor and to the Israel military, demanding “a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the death of Abu Rahmah, and to make it clear to security forces that it is absolutely forbidden to fire tear-gas canisters directly at a person”. B’Tselem also “demanded that the army enforce its Open-Fire Regulations, investigate incidents in which soldiers have violated the regulations, and prosecute the delinquent soldiers”. B’Tselem reported that on 3 May it “received a response from the legal advisor of the Judea and Samaria Division, Col. Sharon Afek, stating that an explicit, comprehensive directive would soon be issued prohibiting the direct firing of tear-gas canisters at people”.
In an article in Haaretz just days after Basem’s death, Benny Ziffer wrote: “On Friday evening the phone rang. It was my daughter. She wanted to tell me that she had just heard that Bassem had died. That a gas canister was shot at his chest at short range during the demonstration at Bil’in and he collapsed on the spot. She sounded completely calm and matter-of-fact. That’s how she is. She has no illusions about life. And she loathes melodrama … About two years ago she came home from the weekly demonstration against the separation fence in Bil’in, and related that she had met the best-looking man in the world there. Two weeks later I went with her to the village to meet him and his family. I took along as a ‘reinforcement’ my cousin, Liliane, who was visiting from France and was the first in our family to have crossed the line and married a Muslim Arab. We were also joined by a photographer, Dan Keinan, who took pictures of the loving couple, Bassem and my daughter, sitting in Zahara’s vine-covered bower … Bassem, 31, came from a modest family. He was not an intellectual, but he had natural leadership abilities. I returned to the village several times and watched him calming down groups of angry young people near the separation fence, so they would not provoke the soldiers. I saw him maintain order during the historic demonstration, about a year ago, that marked the Supreme Court’s recognition of the justice of the villagers’ case, and its ruling that the lands stolen during construction of the separation fence must be returned to them … Indeed, the Supreme Court ruling has not been implemented to this day. The demonstrations against the separation fence continue as usual every Friday. After the noonday prayer at the local mosque, the qadi, who is also the local paramedic, dons a phosphorescent Red Crescent vest and the demonstrators, who wait in the shade of the trees in the adjacent cemetery for the prayers to end, set out down the hill to the fence. At the head of the procession marches an elderly man, one of the founders of Fatah, who always reminds me of my grandfather – an elder of the Zionist sports organization Maccabi, who used to march at the head of the parade at the opening of the Maccabiah event in the Ramat Gan Stadium. Over the years, the conflict between the demonstrators and the soldiers has become a ritual with routine elements. Behind the fence stands a line of expressionless soldiers, wearing helmets and with weapons cocked. Their commander, in a jeep behind them, calls through a megaphone for the demonstration to disperse. It is clear from the outset that the demonstrators do not stand a chance in face of the soldiers and that the protest is only symbolic. There is a hill overlooking the arena of the regular encounter between the demonstrators and the soldiers, where the women, and the reporters and cameramen stand; the whole audience watches the gladiator show without really participating in it. But sometimes, willy-nilly, the audience becomes an actor. Once this happened to me. I was standing and observing what was happening from afar and suddenly a gas grenade landed next to me, fragments of which cut me in the neck. Last Friday something similar happened to a French woman journalist. A grenade fragment cut her face. Bassem rushed to her aid and called to the soldier behind the fence to stop the shooting so that she could be evacuated. In response, the soldier loaded a gas canister into his rifle and fired it at Bassem’s chest. Thus ended the brief story of the life of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, who was handsome, tall and charismatic, but in terms of the scale of categories of humanity, ranked very low”. This story can be read in full on the Haaretz website here .