Iranian protester’s death ‘hijacked by regime’: relative

The Guardian, LONDON

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 - Page 6

The Iranian regime has been accused of hijacking the death of a young pro-democracy protester killed during rallies in Tehran on Monday.

A relative of San’e Zhale, a 26-year-old theater student at Tehran University of Arts, told the Guardian that authorities had launched a campaign to depict the pro-opposition protester as a member of the government-sponsored Basij militia, who had been killed by what they described as terrorists.

“They [security forces] have killed him and now they want to hijack his dead body and exploit his funeral for their own purposes. His family is totally devastated and inundated in sorrow,” said the relative, who asked not to be identified.

Opposition Web sites reported that two protesters were killed in clashes between security forces and thousands of defiant protesters who marched in a banned rally organized by the leaders of the Iranian Green Movement on Monday.

Iranian state news agencies later identified them as Zhale, a member of Iran’s Kurd and Sunni minority, and 22-year-old Mohammad Mokhtari, but blamed the opposition for their deaths.

Authorities staged a funeral at the Tehran University of Arts, but did not permit Zhale’s family to attend. Witnesses told opposition Web sites that the hundreds of Basij members who were bused in to the university to participate in the funeral outnumbered the students and clashed with them.

According to the family member, Zhale’s parents and siblings — who live in the western city of Paveh in Kermanshah Province — were asked not to attend the funeral in Tehran and were threatened that Zhale’s body would not be handed to them if they spoke to foreign media.

“Zhale’s family is under pressure not to deny the way the officials have portrayed him. His father was forced to give a short interview to state television. The authorities are depicting him completely upside down, they have silenced the family by threatening not to hand over his body,” the family member said.

At the same time, Sajad Rezaee, a member of the Islamic Society student group at Tehran University of Arts, told, the official Web site of opposition leader and former Iranian prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, that the dead protester was not a member of the Basij, but was a pro-Mousavi activist.

Shahabaddin Sheikhi, a journalist based in Germany, said: “The authorities’ handling of Zhale’s death reminds me of that of Neda Agha Soltan, the girl whose story took the world’s attention. In Neda’s case, they also tried to portray her as a pro-regime demonstrator and they lied several times to impose their own version of the story, but that finally did not prevail. Same thing is happening with Zhale because they are afraid of the world’s reaction and also the reaction of the people inside the country. They can not get rid of this disgrace and taint easily.”