Facebook mix-up forced lecturer to flee for life
Neda Soltani is now living in exile away from her family and the job she loved as an academic.
Her life changed forever when a picture of her was mistakenly lifted from Facebook and published as the face of a protester, with a similar name, who had been killed by a government sniper.
The victim Neda Agha Soltan had joined thousands of others on the streets of Tehran in 2009 following the disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Her death was captured on mobile phone footage (warning: it contains graphic content) which was beamed around the world.
Neda Agha Soltan became the symbol of the Iranian opposition and her face was shown across the media and used on posters and by protesters – but it was the wrong face.
A journalist had picked out Neda Soltani’s instead, but she was alive and working as a lecturer in a university.
When the state police realised the confusion they tried to force Neda Soltani to pose as Neda Agha Soltan and say that the story had been made up by the western media, reports alarabiya.
Soltani refused and she became the living dead.
As she tells The Guardian: “They wanted to use me to say the whole thing was a fake made up by western media – ‘see, here is this Neda and she is alive’. They didn’t care that it was nothing to do with me, that it was a mistake; they wanted me to co-operate and when I wouldn’t, they hounded me.”
She was charged with treason, which meant death, and was forced to flee to Germany where she lived in a refugee camp for nine months.
Her agony wasn’t over, as she told The Guardian: ”Every day in such a place is torture, not just for me but for all those refugees … In my society I had achieved so much and now I had nothing – I was in a drawer, a folder labelled ‘refugee’.”
In her book just published entitled “My Stolen Face” she describes how cataclysmatically her life changed.
“In eleven days I had gone from that hardworking, fortunate individual who had everything in life under control to this apparition of a woman wondering what would happen in the next few minutes, having no idea, let alone control over the course of events. Why?”
“Because a Basiji had slain an innocent woman in the name of Islam, and some stupid, news-greedy blogger or journalist had wanted to be the first, the very first person to given the icon a face. A search on Facebook for a similar name, of the search results, one has a photo with a sweet smile, fit for a martyr; it’s good, it serves the purpose and now here I am.”
She says her story shows how dangerous sloppy journalism can be.
Even when she emailed and rang news agencies to alert them of the error, it was only Wikipedia who corrected it, reports thestar.
She eventually received an apology from a news agency who had distributed the wrong picture saying “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
Soltani now gives lectures and writes.
When she spoke at Montclair University near New York earlier this year, she focussed on the increasing oppression of women in Iran since the 2009 uprising.
“Before 2009, women in Iran were relatively emancipated when compared to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Women had achieved a lot. Now, they are being seriously oppressed,” she said.
“The current regime knows just what a powerful force emancipated women can be when it comes to creating a free and open society.”