The Death of Neda

Photograph by Unknown

It’s heartbreaking, and I think that anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust.

U.S. President Barack Obama

The Death of Neda

  • Unknown
  • 2009

Neda Agha-Soltan was an unlikely viral icon. On June 20, 2009, the 26-year-old stepped out of her car on a Tehran street near where Iranians were massing in protest of what was seen as the farcical re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Islamic Republic was experiencing its worst unrest since the 1979 revolution. The state made it illegal to join the demonstrations and barred most foreign media, which meant the burden of bearing witness was largely left to the citizens who waded in, cell phones in hand. It was around 6:30 p.m. when Agha-Soltan was struck in the chest by a single bullet, said to originate from a progovernment sniper, though no one was ever charged. Men struggled to save her as others focused their cameras on the unfolding tragedy. One frame from the footage freezes her final gaze as streaks of deep red formed a web on her face. The image, among the earliest and easily the most significant to ever go viral, commanded the world’s attention. Within hours, footage uploaded anonymously to YouTube had been viewed by the President of the United States—proof that our new digital age could not only connect people; it could pry open even the staunchest of regimes. 

See how Soltan's image became a symbol of protest

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