The news that the former mayor of Tehran has murdered his wife has shocked Iran, leading to fresh speculation about the couple’s personal life and whether he had moved in with his young partner before divorcing his first wife.
Reports that Mitra Ostad had been murdered by her husband, Mohammad Ali Najafi, emerged on the morning of Tuesday, May 28. A few hours after the news that she had died after being shot five times in the couple’s apartment, Najafi confessed to the crime. Media quoted Tehran’s head of Police Criminal Investigations, who confirmed Najafi had been arrested. His motive, the reports said, were in connection with “family quarrels.”
Reports about the murder have been accompanied by photographs of the couple, showing Mohammad Ali Najafi looking lovingly at his wife Mitra Ostad, or resting his hand on her shoulder. In the photographs, Najafi looks as the public has most often seen him, wearing a formal suit and sporting gray stubble. Ostrad, Najafi’s second wife, looks young and fashionable, wearing heavy make-up and with her highlighted hair poking out from underneath her headscarf, not quite fitting the image of the traditional wife of an Islamic Republic official.
These photos were first published in 2018, following the couple’s marriage after he resigned as Tehran’s mayor.
Mohammad Ali Najafi holds a science degree from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology and a Master’s degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A reformist, he has been politically active since he was young and has had a very long political and academic career, holding a range of official jobs, including but not limited to: Chair of Isfahan University of Technology, Minister of Education under President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Vice President and Head of Management and Planning Organization under President Mohammad Khatami, and Minister of Science under President Hassan Rouhani.
Najafi served as mayor of Tehran from August 2017 until he resigned in early 2018, although it took until April of that year for Tehran City Council to accept his resignation. At the time, the media reported that he was resigning because of an illness but sometime later, with the publication of photographs of Najavi and his young wife, there were speculations that his resignation had something to do with his second marriage.
Along with the published photographs came rumors, and the personal life of the former reformist mayor was of particular interest to his political opponents, Iran’s hardline conservatives. One rumor was that the couple were not really married but were “living in sin.” Another version said Ostad was Najafi's "concubine," a legal status in Iran and under Shia Islam that allows a woman to live with a man, but which constitutes a lower social status without any rights afforded by marriage. Also known as a "temporary marriage," the relationship must be officiated by an authorized clergyman to be legal.
A Loving Relationship
In an interview in October 2018, Mitra Ostad responded to some of these rumors [Persian link]. “Some say that we are going to divorce because of the age difference,” she said. “What is the meaning of this? They want to attract attention to damage Dr. Najafi. Unfortunately, they have slandered me by saying that I am his concubine. I do have my marriage certificate but it would have been all right even if I were his concubine.”
In the same interview, Mitra Ostad talked about the couple’s loving relationship. “Any person can fall in love and get married,” she said. “All human beings, until they stop breathing, have the urge to love.”
She expressed frustration with the rumors regarding their personal life and said, “Mr. Najafi very respectfully asked for my hand in marriage and I accepted his offer after consulting my family. We have started a life together and I see no reason why some people are looking for sensational stuff.”
That interview was accompanied by another photograph of the pair, although this time Ostad was wearing full hijab. The interview, however, did not put an end to rumors and speculations. One response came from Fatemeh Daneshvar, a women’s rights activist and a former member of Tehran City Council. She wrote on her Instagram page that it appeared as though Najafi had married Mitra Ostad without divorcing his first wife. “Like thousands of other women, the first wife of Dr. Najafi is dealing with her husband taking another wife,” wrote Daneshvar. “Perhaps she is not saying anything and suffers without complaining. But let me tell you that the first emotional response of these women and mothers is an unpleasant one. They fall apart. They might not show it but they are women and full of emotions. They do not fight it because they are patient and kind.”
“While the first wife remains loyal, I find the second, third or [fourth] marriages totally immoral,” added Daneshvar, “and I do not approve of interviews that encourage such behavior in the society. So, Ms. Mitra! I want you to give fewer interviews. I noticed that you were very proud in your interview and defended what you and the doctor have done.”
After the news of the murder was published, Parisa Salehi, a reporter for the site Ensaf News tweeted that Mitra Ostad had agreed to give them an interview but she had been murdered before she could do it. According to Ensaf News, Mitra Ostad told the site’s reporter over the phone: “I want to give an interview to repair my damaged reputation a little.” She also said that the promises that she had been given before her marriage had not been kept.
This last comment could be construed as ominous, and, at the time of publishing, it is still not clear what Mitra Ostad wanted to say to the press — or what really drove Mohammad Ali Najafi to pick up a gun and put an end to her life.