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The Murder that Shocked Iran

October 9, 2017
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
The Murder that Shocked Iran

Iranians have expressed deep shock at the murder of a young man in Western Azerbaijan who was lured to a party before being knocked unconscious, bludgeoned with an ax and set alight. The murderers, four men between the ages of 17 and 20, filmed the incident, and posted videos and selfies next to his burning body on social media. 

The details of the crime might have been the script of a horror movie or a film detailing the methods ISIS uses to torture its hostages. Instead, it was the story of 19-year-old Sadegh Barmaki, who was killed by four of his friends on September 22.

After attacking him with an ax, the four young men left Barmaki to die in the wilderness near the village of Kahriz in Mahabad county. They returned to the scene the next morning to find him still breathing, so then poured gasoline over his body and set him alight. 

Over the last week or so, Iranians have become very familiar with the face of the victim, whose photograph has repeatedly been shared on social media. Barmaki, who was studying accounting, had pale skin, a rather sparse black beard and dark eyes and eyebrows. The men who killed him were the people with whom he had spent most of his time.

“His poor mother was wailing,” Kazhal, a Mahabad resident who attended the funeral, told IranWire. She said Barmaki’s mother had been worried about him when he didn’t come home. She told Kazhal, “When Sadegh did not return home and did not answer his mobile, I called Danial to ask about him. Little did I know that he himself was the one who had cut my child to pieces.”

On Thursday, September 21, Sadegh told his mother that he was going for a night out outside the village and would not be returning that evening. According to Tasnim news agency, Barmaki and his friends attended a party, where his friends gave him something to make him unconscious and then took him by car outside the village. 

On September 25, a shepherd moving his flock of sheep came across Sadegh Barmaki’s burnt body and called 110, Iran’s emergency number. By this time, Barmaki’s family were desperately trying to find him, and had given the police a description of their missing son. The description matched that of the shepherd’s. The police called the family and asked them to go to the coroner’s office to identify the body. “When I went to the morgue,” Sadegh Barmaki’s uncle told the Young Journalists’ Club, “I identified him through his ring and Sadegh’s key to his grandmother’s home.”

Parents Saw the Video

The police started their preliminary investigations and eventually discovered the selfies and videos of the murder on the cellphones of Barmaki’s four friends. But by then, the footage had already been posted online. The police ordered that the links be blocked, but by that time the murdered man’s family had watched the killing of their son, moment by moment. His parents were also taken to the scene to see the charred remains of their loved one. A video of their visit, showing them crying and devastated, was also shared on social media.

“This family will not return to normal for a long, long time,” said Kazhal. She spoke of the video of Barmaki’s ordeal, and how difficult it was to watch. “You need a heart of stone to watch the whole film, especially since in the beginning Sadegh is alive, unconscious on the back seat of the car. Then you see that they hit him with an ax. And when they set him on fire they took selfies.”

Sadegh Barmaki’s uncle has watched the video. According to him, after Sadegh is completely unconscious after the ax blows, his friend Danial shouts, “I am Satan and you are going to hell. Are you now talking to Malika?”

Malika was Sadegh’s girlfriend, said Kazhal. “The thing is that Sadegh was good-looking. He had a girlfriend and his friends were jealous of him.”

On October 6, Tavakol Heydari, the Director-General of West Azerbaijan’s Justice Bureau, said that during the interrogation Danial confessed that his motive for killing his friend was “honor-related,” but many media outlets have claimed that the killers are Satanists, pointing to Danial’s claims in the video that he is Satan as proof.

In recent years, hardliner media have published numerous reports about the spread of Satan-worship among Iranian youth. They point to a number of signs that the trend is growing, including young people dancing to rock and heavy metal music at what they describe as Satan-worship parties. There are, they claim, many heinous murders that can be linked to Satanism.


“What Have we Done to Make People so Heartless?”

Doctor M. Yousefi, a professor of sociology at the University of Tehran, says the public has been shocked by both the motive and the brutality of the murderers. “For me, this is an alarm bell,” he says. “What have we done to make our young people so heartless that they would kill their friend in such a brutal manner?”

He speculates that they could have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “I find it difficult to believe that this happened under normal conditions,” he says. “But this does not make it any less monstrous and shocking.”

 I asked him whether he thought there was any relationship between this brutal murder and Satanist groups. “I cannot deny or confirm it,” he answered, “because all I know about them is what I have read about them in the media. I do not know whether they [Satanic groups] exist at all or, if they do, what their goal is.”

Yousefi warns of the danger of people being presented with violent images then going on to commit violence. “These horrible things happen when we film executions,” he said, “when we gather together to watch them and when children and adults stand in line to watch the last gasps of the convict.”

He believes that social networks must take their share of the blame, too. “Within an hour every horrible video is shared on thousands of websites and social networks. Anybody who has access to Telegram can watch these videos. The video of the beheading of Mohsen Hojaji [a young Revolutionary Guard soldier who was beheaded by ISIS in Syria on September 27] or this video of the burning of Sadegh’s body have been broadcast repeatedly over Telegram and many have seen them — from a 10-year-old child with a mobile to a 70-year-old man. Watching so much violence encourages violence, especially in children and juveniles. This is in addition to emotional reactions that they cause.”

Some people from Sadegh Barmaki’s village have sought their own vengeance for the brutal murder, and have been trying to find out where the murderers live. “The people are searching for the homes of Danial and the other three friends,” said Kazhal, “but Sadegh’s father has begged them to remain calm.” On October 6, the father thanked the people of Mahabad for attending his son’s funeral but asked them to refrain from any emotional reactions and give the law a chance to bring justice to the perpetrators.

The parents have asked that the murderers be given the maximum sentence, the death penalty. And local justice official Tavakol Heydari has said that the case would be given priority. It is likely that soon the murderers — two of them thought to be under-age and the other 20 years old — will be hanged in the town’s main square. As with many executions in Iran, the public will be invited to watch, and it’s likely that a substantial crowd will gather to witness the end of this horrific chain of events. 

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