In one photo, she has her arms spread wide and her big smile shows off the gaps in her teeth. In another, she has her hand on her waist and poses next to a stone wall. In a third, she is standing in the middle of a room smiling at the camera.
These pictures of six-year-old Setayesh have now been posted across social media. They show a young girl whose eyes are filled with the sparkle of childhood, but who has since become the subject of one of the most horrifying news stories of the year.
Setayesh was the daughter of an Afghan family living in Varamin, near Tehran. On Sunday, April 10, the 17-year-old son of a neighbor kidnapped Setayesh, raped her, murdered her and dumped her body into a vat of acid to destroy the evidence.
Her father’s voice is sad and gloomy. He has just returned from visiting his little girl’s grave and his heart is heavy. “I am standing up thanks to God, but her mother…” He pauses for some seconds and says, “Well, she is a mother.”
Shir Agha Ghoreishi and his family moved from Afghanistan to Iran 16 years ago. “I am a laborer,” he says. “I left home at dawn and like always, and I was not home that day.”
As he speaks, his voice sometimes trembles and the words emerge chopped up and out of order. On Sunday, April 10,” he says, “My daughter left home at 1pm. She had gone to buy something from the shop, but she never came home.”
Half an hour after Setayesh was left, her mother called her father. “Perhaps she has gone to her aunt’s or to a relative’s or a neighbor’s home,” he told his wife. “Don’t worry. Where can she go?”
Shir Agha comforted his wife, but he himself could not stand the worry and returned home. “We searched everywhere but we could not find her,” he says. “She had just disappeared.”
When people in the neighborhood heard that Setayesh had disappeared, and many came to the family’s home to comfort them. Shir Agha told the local mosque and went to the police station. “At the police station they put together a case file and told me to take it to the investigative bureau,” he says. “But when I got there it was too late. It was 6pm and the agent had gone.”
The family could not sleep all night. Setayesh was the fourth of Shir Agha’s five children. “My oldest daughter is 17,” he says. “I have a boy of 15 and a 12-year-old daughter. By the grace of God, I also have a girl of two.”
At 8 AM the next morning, he delivered the file to investigators, then set out to let neighbors know what had happened. “I returned home and printed about 500 bills and distributed them around the neighborhood. I thought perhaps somebody might have some news.”
The bill promised a reward, but no news came. A day later a cousin arrived and told him, “They came from the police station. God be praised, they have found your daughter.”
“It is Your Daughter”
Shir Agha was overjoyed and started thanking everybody, but the police captain delivered bad news. “We have found a body,” he said. “Hopefully, it is not your daughter. We must go and identify it.” Before reaching the station he said, “May God grant you forbearance. It is your child.’”
The world came crashing down on Shir Agha’s head. He had hoped to embrace Setayesh again. His voice trembles and says, “It is too hard. May God spare you this. May God give us forbearance.”
He is silent for a few moments and says, “We are devastated. But God was kind to us. The boy asked his friend to help him, but the friend told his father about it and the father informed the police.”
He knows his daughter’s murderer. “They are our neighbors,” he says. “We are at the back of the alley and they are at the front. I have not met his father, but I had seen him going to school. His mother and his sisters used to exchange greetings with Setayesh’s mother. Even when they learned that Setayesh had gone missing they came to our home to comfort us.”
None of the neighbors have been seen since Setayesh’s body was discovered.
Charges of Ethnic Discrimination
Iran’s official media did not pay much attention Setayesh’s murder. Nor, for that matter, does it give much attention to the one million Afghans who live in Iran, many of whom are refugees. Some Iranians protested against this lack of attention on social networks by using the hashtag “I am Setayesh.” They consider the media’s lack of curiosity a matter of racial discrimination and ask, “If the victim had been an Iranian and the murderer had been an Afghan, would the media have remained indifferent to it?”
The subject came up at Setayesh’s funeral, and many Afghan and Iranian women demanded that the matter be pursued seriously. “Yesterday people were saying we expected more coverage,” says Shir Agha, but adds that he has received a great deal of sympathy. “It was a tragic event and all Iranians and Afghanis are shedding tears. They have sent me so many text messages that I am unable to read them all.”
After the funeral, a representative of the Embassy of Afghanistan came to the family’s home to offer condolences. So did the local Friday Prayers leader. Both men promised to follow the case.
“We only want justice,” says Shir Agha, “And we hope justice will be done.”
The family has asked for the death penalty.