Since May 30, Bahareh is no longer the five-year-old girl she used to be. “She can't sleep,” Bahareh’s uncle Alireza Ebrahimi told IranWire. “She is frightened all the time. Sometimes she claps her hands and plays, but then suddenly, for no reason at all, she starts crying. She cowers in a corner by herself and no matter how many times we call her, she pays no attention.”
Bahareh Karimi, a five-year-old Afghan girl, was raped in Khomeini Shahr in Isfahan province on May 30. “They sealed her eyes and her mouth and took her to the ruins of a house, perhaps 200 meters from her home,” her uncle said. “There is no way to see into the house from the alley. The bastards raped her.”
The news of the rape of the little Afghan girl was first published on social media, and was later confirmed by Reza Jafari, head of Social Emergency Services [Persian link]. “The little girl was kidnapped and raped by three men,” he said. “Her half-dead body was found a few hours later in a ruin.” According to her uncle, “the neighbors found Bahareh — unconscious and bloody.”
Neighbors called the emergency services and Bahareh was taken to the hospital. “It appears that the emergency services told the Intelligence Bureau and the police,” the uncle told me. “At the hospital, intelligence agents and the police surrounded her and prevented even her parents from seeing her. They brought the medical examiner to the hospital and the child was taken to the operating room. Then they told the parents: ‘We did restorative surgery. Don’t let the news get out.’”
According to her uncle, Bahareh underwent surgery to restore her virginity. “They took away her parents’ mobile phones to prevent them from contacting the media,” he told IranWire.
“It Was Wrong to Report it!”
On June 6, the contents of a letter by hardline conservative Mohammad Javad Abtahi, Khomeini Shahr’s representative to the parliament, was published on social media. In the letter, which was addressed to the head of the State Welfare Organization, Abtahi demanded the dismissal of the head of the Emergency Services after news of the rape was reported in the media. According to him, it was wrong to publish the news, saying,“First, it is not certain that the rape actually took place. Second, the motives of the perpetrator or perpetrators are not clear. Third, their nationality is unknown. Fourth, it is not clear how many they were.”
The letter also said the media reports had led to unwarranted criticism of the people of Khomeini Shahr and the Islamic Republic. “Unfortunately, the enemies have exploited this situation to malign and vilify Islam, the Prophet, His Household, Imam Khomeini, the Leadership, and the martyr-nurturing people of [Khomeini Shahr] on various domestic and foreign networks,” he wrote.
Abtahi has often been a controversial figure. The media routinely reports on his reactionary comments and behavior, in particular his habit of surveying the reporters’ balcony in parliament on the look-out for female journalists not wearing a full chador — though some media have praised him for being what they describe as “honest.” He’s known for setting fire to both the US flag and the text of the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, inside the parliament compound. When criticized, he defended himself by saying: “You must ask why Moses burned the Golden Calf. It was a symbol of paganism.” He’s also known for something he didn’t say. When, in 2012, Asghar Farhadi, who was born in Khomeini Shahr, became the first Iranian movie director to win an Oscar, Abtahi was conspicuous by his silence.
Abtahi called for media silence in another rape case, too. When news emerged that two men had been executed for their role, with ten other men, in the gang-rape of a woman in a garden outside the city, Abtahi turned his anger toward the media. Addressing the parliament, he criticized the media for “prominently” reporting the “ugly incident of rape” and “rubbing salt into the injuries” of the people of Khomeini Shahr. He quoted a verse from the Koran to support his argument, insisting that publishing such news “promotes prostitution.” He then read out a list of “martyrs” and prominent clergymen who hailed from Khomeini Shahr. “This city did not achieve its honor so easily that it could be plundered by such people,” he said at the time — a sentiment he has recently repeated by attacking the media for its negative coverage of the city.
Abtahi’s recent letter to the State Welfare Organization again met with contempt and even ridicule on social media. Some demanded that Abtahi be boycotted and prevented from being elected to the next parliament. Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist member of the parliament, confirmed on Twitter that Abtahi was the author of the letter. “He just called me and confirmed that he had written the letter. He defended its content vigorously [and said] that it is not yet totally clear what had happened and that the media’s reporting of it has worried families and has been exploited by the counter-revolution, especially because the crime took place in a city that is named after Imam Khomeini.”
Bahareh’s family has seen the letter. “Every time the intelligence agents come to visit Bahareh and talk to her, they tell us not to talk to the media,” her uncle said. “Then they say that the rapists were Afghans because ‘Iranians don’t do such things.’” He said these claims were effectively backed up by the politician’s letter, which makes a point of saying that the nationality of the rapists was not clear.
“Weren’t They Iranian?”
But Bahareh’s mother has responded to the claims that the rapists were not Iranian, drawing links to the rape of her daughter and two other murdered Afghan children.“Weren’t the murderers of Setayesh and Neda Iranians?” she asked. Setayesh was the daughter of an Afghan family living in Varamin, near Tehran. On April 10, 2016, the 17-year-old son of an Iranian neighbor kidnapped Setayesh, raped her, murdered her and dumped her body into a vat of acid to destroy the evidence. Six-year-old Afghan Neda was raped and murdered in April this year in Mashhad by a 41-year-old Iranian man.
Bahareh’s family insist that the nationality of the rapists is not important to them. “We only want the criminals to be apprehended and get the punishment that they deserve,” said her uncle. According to her him, intelligence agents have brought psychiatrists to tend to Bahareh twice. The agents “also come and go regularly,” he said, “but they are not pursuing [the criminals] as actively as they should.”
Bahareh’s injuries are both psychological and physical. “She has issues even after the surgery,” Alireza Ebrahimi said. “We take her to the doctor ourselves. Every time that I see how this child is suffering from pain or is crying, I pray that these bastards get caught sooner rather than later.”
With additional reporting by Ehsan Mehrabi
More on how rape is handled and addressed in Iran:
Ayatollah Khamenei Intervenes on Sexual Abuse Scandal, May 30, 2018
Child Marriage or Child Rape?, April 5, 2018
Marital Rape: Talking about it Remains Taboo, December 18, 2016
The Leader, The Child Molester And His Victims, October 27, 2016
Sexual Assault in Zanjan Province: What the Law Says, May 19, 2016
Father of Murdered Afghan Girl: “We Want Retribution!”, April 17, 2016
“The Smirk on the Judge’s Face was Worse than the Rape”, November 4, 2014
Rape Before Execution: The Secrets Persist, October 5, 2014
Sexual Abuse at Home, Iran's Hidden Shame, October 30, 2013
More on the plight of Afghan refugees in Iran:
The Impossible Achievements of Afghan Students in Iran, June 4, 2018
Iran’s Afghan Allies Demand Recognition, January 11, 2018
The Afghan Schools Run by Afghan Refugees, December 20, 2017
Caught up in Clashes: Iran’s Afghan “Green Movement” Prisoners, April 21, 2016
Afghan Workers are Scapegoats For Iran’s Poor Economy, May 20, 2015
Afghan Children Denied Education, June 25, 2015
The Never-Ending Saga of Iranians and Racism, October 16, 2015
Against the Odds? Maryam Monsef and the Canadian Dream, November 11, 2015
Afghan Media Visit Schools for Refugees in Tehran, January 2015