Somayeh Mehri died on April 13 after respiratory complications following injuries sustained after her husband threw acid on her and their youngest daughter, Rana, in 2011. Somayeh’s lungs were damaged in the attack, and her face was disfigured.
Though Somayeh Mehri’s death received media coverage, Rana has not been told about her mother’s death.
“She is so little, she cannot understand that her mother is dead,” Somayeh’s father, Reza Mehri, tells me over the phone. I can hear Rana’s voice in the background. “Let her be. She has had no happiness. I tell everybody to just let her play.”
Speaking to Reza, it is clear how painful the last week — and years — have been. Every few seconds, his voice breaks as if he might cry.
He talks about Somayeh’s life over the last four years. “In our village, divorce is frowned upon,” he says. “But Abbas [her husband] could have consented to a divorce. Two years before the attack, they went to the court for a consensual divorce. But Abbas’ brother mediated, and they took Somayeh back to their home. Somayeh did not know that it was part of a plan.”
Reza becomes agitated when I ask him to speak about the day Abbas, a drug addict, brutally attacked his daughter Somayeh and his granddaughter, Rana, throwing acid at them both. “I was woken up by banging,” he says. “Abbas was at the door. Nervously, he said, ‘Somayeh has had an electric shock.’ When we reached their house, I saw some of Somayeh’s hair in the middle of the yard. She was moaning and saying, ‘I am burning’ over and over again. All the neighbors were there. The skin on her face was coming off. Rana was screaming. Her skin was coming off as well. Nazanin, my eldest granddaughter, had been woken up by the screaming. She was crying. Somayeh and Rana’s eyes were burning. We repeatedly poured water on them, but we had no idea what had happened.”
When he reaches this point of the story, he stops. In his thick Kermani accent, he says, “Dear child, can we talk another day? When I remember these things I feel faint in my heart.”
I am reminded of Somayeh’s own words. Last year, when I visited her she talked about what Abbas had done. “Whenever I remember that night I feel horrible,” she told me. “Imagine you are sleeping and your little child is sucking her bottle of milk next to you. You go in and out of sleep. Suddenly, you feel your face burning. You scream and run to the yard. Then you notice that your skin and your hair are coming off."
"My face and my eyes were burning. I got to the yard and washed my face by the pool, but I saw that my hair was coming off, piece by piece, dropping off next to the pool.” [Read the complete Persian text of my conversation with Somayeh here.]
After going to Somayeh’s father, Abbas ran off. A few days later, he and his brother — who was his partner in crime — were arrested.
The court date was set for April 27 this year. But, says, Reza Mehri, “now that Somayeh is gone, her lawyer has postponed the trial and we don’t know what is going to happen”. Abbas is in a jail in Kerman, but his brother has been released on bail.
I hear Rana again in the background. Her grandfather stops for a moment to say a few endearing words to her. “Somayeh wanted Abbas to suffer retribution for what he did,” he continues. “They must take his eyes away from him, she said. She was hoping to be there on the day he was punished. Now that she is no longer here, I will follow up on this. Until now, he was guilty of an acid attack. Now the crime is murder.”
Time to Grieve
Shortly before she died, Somayeh had difficulty breathing. She was hospitalized at Loghman Hospital in Tehran, and spent two days in an oxygen tent. But she did not last long. “The acid had destroyed her lungs,” her father says, before shouting: “Bastard!” and breaking down in tears. When he speaks again, his voice is broken. “I spent as much money as I could to treat Somayeh, but…,” he says.“God knows that nobody, not the government or anybody else, helped us. I sold my land and spent it on treating Somayeh and Rana’s eyes. Early on, when she had to go to Tehran for treatment for them both, she would take the night bus and arrive in Tehran in the morning. When she was done, she would take the night bus back, because she did not have money for a motel. Then when reporters wrote about her case, they gave people Somayeh’s card and number and people helped her.”
Reza Mehri, a farmer, sold everything to treat his daughter and granddaughter. “Whatever I can get now, I will spend on Rana,” he tells me. “I have not touched Somayeh’s money since she went away. Whatever I have spent has come from my own toil.” Government officials have not promised him any help. “Nobody has even asked how Rana is,” he says.
In addition to Somayeh, Reza is the father of eight other children. “They are married and have moved to villages around here,” he says. “Now Nazanin and Rana are my children. I will raise them. I will not let anybody else be their guardian. They will stay with me.”
Nazanin is nine years old. “When she remembers her mother, she goes quiet and sits in a corner,” Reza says. “Rana is not really aware. She cannot see in one eye. The doctors say that they can only operate on her when she is older. The other children in the village are, of course, just children. Some of them are afraid of Rana and will not play with her. Rana mostly runs around at home and plays by herself. I tell everybody: let her play now. When she grows up and understands she will have time enough to grieve.”