Friday, November 13, 2009

The price of trying to save killed Iranian protester Neda Soltan

Martin Fletcher

The death of Neda Soltan in the protests that followed the Iranian presidential election touched the world, but what of the doctor who went to her aid?

As Arash Hejazi sat in an Oxford coffee bar, members of Iran's Basij militia in Tehran were demanding his extradition outside the British Embassy.

The previous day the Iranian regime had sent an Oxford college a letter of protest over a scholarship given to honour Neda Soltan, the student killed during a huge demonstration against electoral fraud in Tehran in June.

The letter also suggested that Dr Hejazi was responsible for her murder.

For Dr Hejazi, who had tried to save Ms Soltan's life, that was the final straw. He decided that it was time to speak out. It was time to reveal how the regime has sought to vilify, punish and silence him ever since he told the world, immediately after Ms Soltan's death, how she had been shot by a government henchman for peacefully protesting against President Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

Dr Hejazi is now living in exile in Britain, jobless and fearful, while back in Tehran the regime blackens his name and hounds his friends, family and colleagues.

"I told the truth. I just did what I had to do, but there were dire consequences," he told The Times. In short, a quirk of fate - that he happened to be standing near Ms Soltan the moment that she was shot - has turned his entire life upside down and made him "another victim of tyranny".

Dr Hejazi, 38, was doing a one-year postgraduate course in publishing at Oxford Brookes University at the time of the June 12 presidential election, and returned to Tehran on a business trip the following day. On June 20 he was caught up in a street protest when he heard a blast, looked around and saw blood gushing from the chest of the woman next to him.

She collapsed. Dr Hejazi, who had trained as a doctor before switching to publishing, tried in vain to save her life. Within hours a video clip of that scene had flashed around the world, transforming Ms Soltan into a symbol of the regime's brutality and of the Iranian people's battle for freedom.

So powerful were the pictures that Dr Hejazi, realising that the regime would try to suppress the truth, fled back to his wife and infant son in Britain. A few days later, in interviews with The Times and the BBC, he told how Ms Soltan was shot by a Basiji on a motorbike who was swiftly caught by other demonstrators.

Dr Hejazi's troubles began almost immediately. His father, a university professor, was interrogated for hours and ordered to tell his son to shut up. Senior officials in the regime asserted that Ms Soltan had been killed by foreign intelligence agencies, and that Dr Hejazi was part of an international conspiracy to undermine the Islamic republic. He was denounced in the state-controlled media. Iran's police chief declared him a wanted man. Read more ...

Source: The Australian
Dr. Arash Hejazi
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