One year ago Sunday, a single, violent death captivated the world. 27-year-old Neda Agha Soltan was shot during an anti-government protest in Tehran on June 20, 2009 – her death caught on camera and broadcast around the world on YouTube. Neda quickly become a symbol of the protest movement in Iran.
But one year later, the movement is suffering under the weight of a brutal crackdown.
We recently returned from a rare visit inside Iran -- the first by American television reporters since the protests. Though the government banned us from any contact with opposition leaders, we met them in secret and hid their identities for their safety.
What we found was a climate of deep fear among those who oppose the Iranian regime. People who once said they were on the verge of a revolution are now demoralized and on the run -- crushed by a brutal crackdown of show trials, torture and execution.
Everywhere we went, we were followed. But the risks are greatest for the opposition. In ten trips to Iran, this was the most nervous I've seen them.
A husband-and-wife pair of activists -- we'll call them Mehdi and Maryam -- arranged to be interviewed in a moving car.
"If they want they can come to our house and take us," Maryam said.
"They are coming for activists one by one... next I think it will be our turn," her husband Mehdi said.
Both had been beaten and injured by police loyal to the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but they insisted they were not afraid to keep up their fight.
"We attended more than 20 or 30 protests during just one year. If you do that, you get used to it. You face the danger." Mehdi said.
Hiding from Authorities
We met another opposition figure, whom we'll call Ahmad, in a public park after midnight. Arrested twice and tortured, he's now hiding from the police.
"They don't know where I am right now," he said. "Each night I spend in a different place."
If the police were to find him, Ahmad says, he could spend ten to fifteen years in prison.
Today, opposition supporters pay emotional tribute at Neda's grave. But the regime is at work there too. Thugs have defaced her gravestone and undercover police lurk among the mourners. A man quietly whispered a warning to us that security officers were watching. He told us to leave for our own safety.
Ahmad finds hope in new attempts to bring labor unions into the opposition movement.
"In my view the opposition has a lot of work to do but new forces are beginning to grow and I'm sure they'll bring about change."
However, now a movement that once talked of revolution within days or week speaks of much more gradual change.
"I hope it takes place in about 5 to 10 years but there is no rule. No one can, no can tell the future," Mehdi said.
As we said goodbye to Mehdi and Maryam, they told us their only choice now is to leave the country, along with many other activists. And as they go…so does much of their hope for change.
And as they go, so does much of their hope for change in Iran.
A new documentary about the protest movement and Neda's inspiring role called "For Neda" is airing on HBO now.