"Who Is Neda?" Brings Different Answers

This image of a widely-circulated YouTube video shows an young woman, identified as Neda, who died from a bullet to the heart during a crackdown on protesters, June 20, 2009.
AP Photo
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.

It's also led to differing reports on the woman's identity, ranging from a 16-year-old girl to a 27-year-old student.

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 her life and events immediately preceding her apparent death difficult to confirm. But clips of the woman, 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.

As photography director for National Geographic, David Griffin told CBS News correspondent Richard Roth that an event becomes real through pictures, when the pictures become personal.

"You can watch it and observe it but it's hard to make that hard connection to it," Griffin said. "The moment it becomes individual, I mean the one thing about that one image where the eyes are looking at you, I think that really connects to people."

Roth notes that "Neda" in the Farsi language means "the call" or "the voice."

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.

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Neda: An Unintended Symbol for the Iranian protest movement

Several initial reports identified her as a 16-year-old girl who was attending Saturday's protest with her father.

But according to an interview with BBC's Persian service, a man identifying himself as her fiancée said she was a 27-year-old student who was more concerned with freedom in Iran than a specific presidential candidate.

Caspian Makan said Neda was sitting in traffic in her music teacher's car as the demonstrations developed Saturday, but got out because it was hot. Makan said he believes the Basij militia and plainclothes security targeted her, according to a translation of the telephone interview.

Neda died just a few minutes after the shooting in her music teacher's car, on her way to nearby Shariati Hospital, he said.

In the wake of her death, Makan reported problems retrieving her body and holding a memorial. He said she was taken to a coroner outside of Tehran, who pressed the family to allow the removal of several organs, including part of her thigh bone, though no reason was given. The family assented in order to speed the return of the body.

Makan also said a planned memorial Sunday was derailed by officials at a Shariati Street mosque for fear that a gathering would cause further clashes.

Makan made a point of saying Neda had no political affiliation but was concerned about the future of freedom in Iran.

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.

A woman identifying herself as 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."