The Center for Ethics and College Council hosted 2010 Foreign Press Association Journalist of the Year Saeed Kamali Dehghan yesterday during the film-screening of the HBO documentary “For Neda,” which chronicles the story of Neda Agha-Soltan — a casualty from the 2009 Iranian election protests.
Dehghan’s visit to Emory marks his first appearance in the United States since covertly interviewing members of Agha-Soltan’s family in the aftermath of Iran’s elections despite the risk of sneaking back into Iran.
“It’s perfect timing with what’s going on in the Middle East that we scheduled this now particularly in the aftermath of what happened in Egypt and what’s currently going on in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya,” Communications Manager for the Center of Ethics Tonya Anderson said. “I think the story [of Neda] can be told because it’s telling itself over and over again.”
Agha-Soltan’s death on June 20, 2009, after being shot by a Basij sniper, became a rallying point for protesters who proceeded to use the meaning of her name, “voice,” as an icon in their struggles against Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Her death was captured on video, which ultimately went viral on the Internet.
Anderson noted the significance of Dehghan’s journalism coverage in Iran not only because the country had banned journalists, but also due to the fact that a visit to Iran posed a risk to his life.
“To be 22 years old and do something like this, can you imagine?” Anderson asked. “To do all of this in order to tell this young lady’s story definitely makes him a hero in our eyes.”
Dehghan, who also co-produced the documentary “For Neda,” said he felt completely alone when he was in Iran.
He called his journey in tracking down Agha-Soltan’s family members as “facing the greatest challenge of my life.”
After getting in contact with Agha-Soltan’s brother and learning that the family was willing to meet him, Dehghan said his stomach was churning from the fear and anxiety he felt.
“I was sure that someone from the intelligence unit would come up at any time,” he said.
Seeing Neda’s portrait against the wall when he walked inside the Agha-Soltan home caused him to break down in tears because he was “walking into the home of the girl who had become a symbol of freedom for our country.”
“When I went into her bedroom, I thought how Neda used to walk in here every day,” Dehghan said. “This is where she slept … .She was no longer a stranger.”
“For Neda,” which was directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Antony Thomas, interviewed a number of people including Agha-Soltan’s friends from her University days to Arash Hejazi, the doctor who was by her side when she was killed.
The film was meant to paint a portrait of the woman who symbolized more to Iran in death than she did when she was alive, according to Dehghan.
College junior and President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) Sami Tabbaa said the film is important because it exposes the truth about Iran.
“Most Iranians don’t have this type of story to tell because they’ve grown up in America, but it becomes more different from what actually happened,” Tabbaa said. “I feel like it’s an excellent way for them to be aware.”
Dehghan is currently based in London and is working as a journalist for the Guardian newspaper.