Yesterday news of another sickening murder in Iran in the name of “honor” was reported by human rights watchdog Hengaw. The killing of a woman named Somayeh Fathi, a resident of Qaleh Zanjir-e Olya village in Kermanshah province, in early June is the latest in a torrent of femicidal violence in Iran that shows no sign of abating. Meanwhile, the relative of another murdered young woman says families are being pressured by authorities not to speak to the media.
Fathi, who was married and pregnant, was reportedly forced by her father, brother, and other family members to consume the rat poison aluminium phosphide, due to having had an affair with a younger man.
A source told Hengaw that Fathi’s family had not mourned her death, and neither had anyone been arrested by security forces for her murder. Yesterday Kermanshah police denied the news and called it a fabrication by dissident websites.
So-called honor killings, however, are usually first exposed by local sources and then subsequently confirmed by the police. In this case, some believe the police will refuse to ever tell the truth about the incident due to the sheer volume of similar heinous crimes that have recently been reported.
"The Islamic Republic’s record over the years shows that it easily conceals the truth," a human rights activist told IranWire. “So we trust local sources more than the police. Of course, this may be wrong, but just as much as there is a possibility of the news being a mistake, there is the possibility of concealment by the police."
May-June 2020 is likely to be remembered as the bloody summer of violence against women and girls in the name of “honor” in Iran. It began with the reported killing of Hajareh Hosseinbor, a young Baluch woman murdered by her husband in Saravan. This was followed by news of the horrific death of teenage student Romina Ashrafi in Sefidsangan at the hands of her own father. Then the body of Fatemeh Barhi, a 19-year-old decapitated by her jilted cousin and husband, was found on the banks of the Bahmanshir Rover in Abadan. Just days ago, 22-year-old Reyhaneh Ameri was bludgeoned to death by her father in Kerman. Now Somayeh Fathi is said to have been forced to poison herself by male relatives.
Fresh Revelations About Murder of Aspiring Model
In recent days the local state-run Rokna News Agency, Kerman Prosecutor's Office and the police have published contradictory accounts of the motive and method of Reyhaneh Ameri's murder. One of her close relatives, who asked not to be named, has disclosed shocking information about the day of the killing to IranWire.
Her father is said to have returned home after beating his daughter to death. There he ate, retired to bed, and then awoke the following morning to ask his wife for a cup of tea, which she duly prepared for him.
"Reyhaneh's mother goes to pick up her medicine from next to the freezer downstairs,” the source said. “She finds that the blanket she has spread there has fallen down. She picks up the blanket and sees that the corner of the blanket is bloody.
“As soon as she notices blood on the blanket, she calls one of the other daughters, who is married and whose house is nearby.”
Reyhaneh's mother reportedly told her daughter that she had not seen Reyhaneh since that morning. She asked Reyhaneh's sister to get to the house as soon as possible, because her husband had previously threatened to kill Reyhaneh and the discovery of the blanket had left her deeply disturbed.
“Reyhaneh's father was strongly opposed to Reyhaneh's activities in modeling,” the source said. “After arguing with Reyhaneh, he had beaten her so badly with a stick that both of Reyhaneh's legs were broken. As a consequence she was trapped in the house for a while and could not go to work."
After her mother's phone call, Reyhaneh's sister reportedly hurried to her father's house and, accompanied by her mother, persuaded her father to leave for a while. As soon as he did so, they broke into Reyhaneh's room. It was in complete disarray, leading them to fear that something terrible had happened there.
"As they waited for the police to arrive,” the source said, “Reyhaneh's mother began to pick up the clothes that had been thrown on the floor and gather up Reyhaneh's personal belongings. She found blood under the clothes, all over the floor. The room was full of blood, and those garments had been were deliberately dumped there to cover it."
Police instructed the pair to convince Reyhaneh’s father to come home so they could arrest him there. According to Rokna, he later confessed to killing her at 11pm the previous night and dumping the body in the desert area around Kerman. A forensic examination later ascertained that Reyhaneh had been alive two hours earlier at 9pm.
According to the relative, Reyhaneh's mother and sister were first traumatized by the revelation that he did not even leave the blanket wrapped around his child's body and took it home with him, leaving Reyhaneh’s body to burn in the desert heat. Doctors advised them not to look at the body as it had become so blistered. Reyhaneh's face, they said, was bruised and bloody, and the bruises were concentrated under the girl's puffy eyes.
Families Discouraged From Speaking Out
According to this source, Kerman police later arrested Reyhaneh's fiancé, Abbas, on suspicion of informing the BBC and other media outlets outside Iran about the circumstances of Reyhaneh's death.
"Abbas was Reyhaneh's fiancé and their families were aware of their relationship,” they said. “Reyhaneh's friendship group has not been left unattended. The police have confiscated their mobile phones and interrogated them."
The source says that Reyhaneh’s sisters were threatened by their father on arrival at the police station. He told them that if they informed police about his repeated beatings of Reyhaneh, they would be next.
The deputy police of Kerman province has claimed Reyhaneh’s father regrets killing his daughter. Initial reports have also been revised to state he killed his daughter not with an ax as originally thought, but with an iron bar. At the same time, Kerman prosecutor Dadkhoda Salari has claimed that he had not intended to kill his daughter and her death was the result of an accident.
Long-Awaited Legal Protection is Desperately Lacking
Attorney Shervin Sultanzadeh told IranWire that in his view, the perpetrators of so-called honor killings are emboldened by a regressive culture, a lack of education and the inadequacies of Iranian law.
"The erroneous teachings in our childhood about honor ascribe to us, wrongly, the task of arbitrating on somebody else’s life,” he says. “At the same time, the legal deterrents that ought to stop this blind, dogmatic act in support of the victim are not sufficient.”
In the wake of Romina Ashrafi’s killing, President Rouhani has renewed calls for his watered-down “Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence” – which has been on the table but not passed by the judiciary since 2011 – to be inscribed in law. But Sultanzadeh doubts the effectiveness of this new legislation, even when it is finally enacted.
"This bill has been inert since its drafting in 2011,” he says, “on the pretext of its being ‘Western’ and a potential threat that could the family system and increase the divorce rate. It has been rewritten and amended from beginning to end, dozens of times, and has been neutralized to the point that it is practically useless.
“What remains in the bill is no deterrent for violence or honor killings, and in some cases even works against women's rights. Issues such as rape in marital life, child marriage, and forced marriage have been ignored in the bill."
State Media Rubbishes Claims “Honor Killing” Claims
Sultanzadeh also notes contradictions in coverage of Reyhaneh Ameri's murder by the official news agency. “When there is no clear structure to deal with such violence,” he says, “confusion in all aspects of society, including the media, the prosecutor's office and law enforcement, are apparent."
Rokna’s first missive on the killing of Reyhaneh Ameri was published at 5pm on June 17, ostensibly one day after the incident took place. It took the form of a video presented by Mehdi Ebrahimi, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, explaining that Reyhaneh Ameri was the victim of the “zeal” of the men in the family.
Rokna also noted the perpetrator had previously attempted to kill his daughter. The agency says the victim was beaten by her father three years before and rescued from death only through the mediation of her sisters. On the night of her death, it added, Reyhaneh's father watched her slowly die.
But 24 hours later, the same news agency appeared to express implicit support for Reyhaneh’s father, writing that he had shown remorse and repentance at all stages of the interrogation.
It reported that Reyhaneh was in fact killed due to repeated robberies of her father’s workshop by her boyfriend, adding that “counter-revolutionary” channels were trying to stir up public emotion by portraying it as an honor killing when the “main reason” was “theft and financial issues”.
The maximum punishment in Iranian law for committing an act such as this in public law is three to 10 years in prison. But in most cases, as there is no private plaintiff in so-called honor killings, the crime is not taken seriously and the killer is regularly released on bail or with the charges dropped.
Is This Summer Really Exceptional?
Yesterday Abbas Masjidi Arani, chairman of the Iranian Medical Examination Organization, told reporters at a press conference that 85,420 cases of spousal abuse had been logged by the organization last year. He did not mention the number of reported honor killings in the same period.
In an interview with IranWire, sociologist and women’s rights activist Elie Khorsandfar said the government has always strictly avoided providing statistics on social harms. In any case reported honor killings are regularly covered up by the family and the wider community. The recent surge in reported honor killings, she said, does not necessarily indicate an increase in the number of incidents but might mean it is becoming easier to make them known about. In other words, the number of murders of young women that took place in June might not be the exception, but the rule.