Being the 'other Neda' destroyed a woman's life


After Neda Agha-Soltan's 2009 death during protests in Iran, an Iranian English-literature professor named Zahra "Neda" Soltani had the surreal experience of seeing her picture reproduced in news reports and in protests around the world, and her name used interchangeably with Agha-Soltan's. The photo came from her Facebook page, Soltani writes in a first-person account, and writing to news organizations that contacted her didn't stop the wrong information from spreading.

This BBC photo shows Neda Soltani on the left; Neda Agha-Soltan, on the right, died during protests in 2009.

But there were more dire connotations of the mixup, she writes:

The Iranian regime felt harassed by the attention Agha-Soltan's death had brought on them from abroad. Within three days, Ministry of Intelligence agents came to my home and summoned me for a meeting.

They wanted to find a way to wash their hands of the blood of Neda Agha-Soltan. My name and my face were the only part of the puzzle that they could use to their advantage.

Eventually, she writes, she was "charged with being a spy for the CIA and told to sign a confession. I knew very well that such an accusation could end in a death sentence for me in Iran."

Soltani fled -- first to Turkey, then to Greece and Germany. The BBC report says she's "currently on a fellowship to a US university."

In 2009 Poynter's Bill Mitchell wrote about how the dissemination of the story of Agha-Soltan's death represented a new form of journalism and talked about how difficult it was to verify details in the story. Relying on media reports, even Poynter and Mitchell called the dead woman Neda Soltani. (The story has since been updated.)

In 2010, Souad Mekhennet wrote about Soltani's ordeal for The New York Times, catching up with her at an apartment near Frankfurt, Germany. “Both sides have destroyed my life, the Western media and the Iranian intelligence,” she told Mekhennet. “But I still have the hope that at least the media will realize what they have done.” That same year, Cameron Abadi profiled her: "It turns out she is a sort of martyr after all," Abadi wrote.

Correction: The German city of Frankfurt was originally misspelled in this post.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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