I originally wrote this piece for Tehran Bureau which posted it on February 15.
A day after a university student was shot to death during anti-regime protests in Tehran, a battle is waging for his soul.
Saneh Jaleh, 26, was killed on Jamalzadeh Street, north of Azadi Street which was the main fulcrum of demonstrations on February 14.
News outlets close to the government now claim that he was a supporter of the regime and that he was shot by agents provocateurs controlled by various opposition groups. The regime announced it would organize a funeral procession for Jaleh, from the Arts University of Tehran, where he studied theater, to Tehran University at 9:30 AM, Wednesday morning.
Opposition forces, with Jaleh's friends and classmates at the forefront, are leading a counter-offensive to prevent what they see as the cynical exploitation of the slain protester. They have called on all those who oppose the appropriation of Jaleh by the government to convene at the Arts University near Vali Asr crossroads half an hour earlier.
Until yesterday, the last major protest in Iran took place on Ashura (the commemoration of Imam Hossein's martyrdom), 27 December 2009.
Asked why he was ready to divulge his own name and possibly endanger himself, Soltani simply said, 'Well he was also a human being who is no longer with us, come what may.'
The barrage of what appears to be a well-orchestrated disinformation operation is reminiscent of the regime's attempts to blame anyone but its security forces for the death of Neda Agha Soltan during the unrest of 2009. In June of that year, state media and semi-official news outlets like Fars made unsubstantiated accusations against a broad group of likely culprits that included the CIA, the Mujaheddin Khalgh Organization, the Greens themselves and BBC correspondent Jon Leyne. The regime also widely distributed an edited interview showing Agha Soltan's father saying that his daughter was not a member of the Green movement.
Similarly, Jaleh's background does not quite mesh with that of a Basij member or government supporter. He was in his third year of studies in the field of dramatic arts at the faculty of cinema and theater at Tehran's Arts University. He was also interested in writing fiction, according to Soltani, and published at least one short story entitled 'The Bus' in Azma magazine, which has been accused in some quarters of being a part of the 'soft war' against the Islamic Republic. He was a native of Kurdistan province and was a Sunni. 'I think he was from the town of Bijar or Paveh,' said Soltani. 'In any case, he spoke both Turkish and Kurdish.'
The progression of the official presentation of Jaleh from devout student to regime sympathizer to full-fledged Basij militia member has left a trail on cyberspace, implicating news agencies, the head of the Arts University of Tehran, and the Basijeh Daneshjouyi (Student Basij organization).
Towards noon, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) spoke of Jaleh as a 'martyr who was killed yesterday during the riots of the seditionists,' a catchphrase for those who oppose the regime. Although Hadi Ghassemi, in charge of public relations for the Student Basij, was quoted in IRNA's report, he never said that Jaleh was a Basij member. IRNA added, 'Jaleh was a guardian of the Qoran and a religious person and was considered a supporter of the regime.' The article planted the first seeds of the scenario that the regime would be promoting: 'This young man was killed with a bullet fired from a small arm.' In the case of Neda, the regime's news agencies insisted that the bullet which killed the young woman came from a weapon which is not used by the Islamic Republic's security forces.
Fars News, close to the IRGC, also quoted Hadi Ghassemi around noon, but this time the Student Basij spokesperson had more to say. Jaleh had been 'the target of a direct shot from the Monafeghin (hypocrites) terrorist groupuscule,' said Ghassemi, using the regime's term for the MKO.
By this point in the day, contrary voices were being raised to denounce the regime's campaign to exploit Jaleh and to invite the people to pre-empt the official funeral service on Wednesday morning. 'The height of shamelessness,' one Internet user wrote on the Balatarin news aggregator. 'Our next meeting... tomorrow to bury Green martyr Saneh Jaleh,' wrote blogger Arezooabedini. It was time for the official news outlets to go to the next level.
Soltani and other friends of Jaleh have set up a Facebook group called 'Green martyr Saneh Jaleh' to protect the memory of their slain comrade and to provoke a popular backlash.
Though the most immediate task of the group is to invite people to convene at the Arts University funeral service tomorrow to prevent the regime from burying Jaleh as a Basiji, one member posted another request.
'I read the words of [Arts University president] Saeed Kashn Fallah,' he wrote. 'Friends of the university community! Let us begin housecleaning from the university and [...] demand the removal of this un-chivalrous character (najavanmard). Let us take this step in our own home, until we take the next ones.'