Iran last weekend blocked VOA's airing of a documentary by Antony Thomas, For Neda. VOA's Persian News Network (PNN) says viewers complained that television signals were jammed shortly after the film went on air Saturday, June 5. PNN will re-broadcast the documentary on June 12. For Neda tells the story of 26-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, whose death during post election violence in Tehran last year was widely broadcast over the internet. Among those who participated in the film was former CNN anchor, now human rights spokesperson, Rudi Bahktiar. Reporter Cecily Hilleary asked her about the young woman whose face became an international icon for reform in Iran.
Listen to the full interview:
Bahktiar: I remember the day I went on CNN, and they were interviewing me. And CNN was still blocking her eyes so that you couldn't see her face. They thought it was the right thing to do, obviously. But I urged them, actually, in that interview, I said, 'You should show Neda's eyes. She's following the camera. She knows what happened. She's looking at the camera.' And I think again that it is that fact-that video cuts to your heart because she's looking at you as she's dying, as if to say, 'I'm dying for nothing -- please don't let me die in vain."
Hilleary: You represent the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Your group tracks human rights abuses. Did Neda's death make any difference? What is the situation today in Iran?
Bahktiar: The situation is as dire as it has ever been. Iran is the number one country when it comes to the numbers of people executed yearly. That number has quadrupled under Ahmedinejad's power. And Iran is the number one country now when it comes to jailed journalists. There are one third of the world's journalists there who are imprisoned inside of Iran. One third! And when you look at the statistics, when you see that Iran is one of the few countries that still executes juvenile delinquents once they come of age, it's one of the few countries where women are not equal, where minorities are prosecuted, you have Bahais in jail. The human rights situation is very dire. It is one of the worst in the world. And of course Neda's death means a lot to our organization. Every death does. Every violation does. Every rape case means a lot to us. So, although that has gained prominence, there are still, [right now], many people who are in jail for no reason at all, many people who have been denied access to lawyers. They have not even been charged.
Hilleary: What do you hope that the film For Neda will achieve, and what is it that your group is looking to the international community to do?
Bahktiar: I'm hoping that the film would [a] show the average Iranian youth, what her family is like, what she wanted for herself. The most important thing is that we would like the world to understand and know that no one has yet paid or answered for her death or the death, the incarceration and the rapes of many others. We have today put out a list of fifteen people we hold directly responsible for the violence that has ensued since [last] June. We would like the international community to not allow them to travel freely and to put a hold on all their bank accounts all over the world.