"I will kill myself tonight in any way I can. Because it's over. No one has the right to harass my mother [over this]. I just want to die because of my father’s actions. Please do not do anything to any member of my family. Just take revenge on my father. After 3 days, bury me. Forgive me. Don't give my room furniture to anyone."
These sentences, in a childish handwriting, end the diary of Ghazal Hamzaei.
Ghazal, a 15-year-old girl from one of the villages of Lorestan province, died in suspicious circumstances on the morning of Thursday, July 2. It is not yet known whether she carried out what she resolved to do in her diary, or whether her abusive father made good on his threats to kill her first.
Ghazal reportedly ended her life by taking methadone pills. But a source close to the matter told IranWire that there is confusion over the exact circumstances. "Ghazal was severely abused by her father and was repeatedly threatened with death,” they said. “Where did a 15-year-old girl find methadone pills? Hospital staff said she was taken to hospital late. Why was there a delay in taking the child to hospital?"
A Family Torn Asunder by Father's Violence
This informed source regards Ghazal’s short life as a tragic one. "Ghazal's parents separated years ago when she was less than a year old. Her mother had married her father when she was 15. Her husband was 17 years old then and was later confirmed by his family to suffer from mental, moral, and psychological problems."
In the village and surrounding area where Ghazal’s mother lives, the source said, women still feel forced to endure even the worst of domestic situations of the huge stigma attached to the term “divorced”. "She [Ghazal’s mother] managed to live with him for four years,” they said, “despite the difficulties. But the suffering inflicted on her by her ex-husband was unendurable and she decided to split with him. She and Ghazal, who were less than a year old, were constantly beaten. Her father forced Ghazal's mother to write insults to her family on paper and read them out loud, or, he would say, ‘Call my girlfriends and tell them you're my sister so they don’t cut off their relationship with me’.”
Ghazal's mother did her best to secure custody of their child. But the influence of Ghazal's father’s family and the weakness of her own made it impossible for her to claim her rights in court. Ahead of the trial, the judge was bribed in exchange for only discussing the dowry and not investigating her husband’s psychological problems. Even this dowry was to be paid in instalments and custody of Ghazal was granted to him.
Ghazal’s mother's intention in enforcing her right to a dowry was to exchange this dowry for custody of her daughter. But she was not able to obtain it, and nor was she granted visitation rights, which are typically extended in law to the other parent.
Living in the Shadow of Abuse
After the separation, Ghazal's father warned his mother that if she continued to pursue the either her dowry or custody of her daughter, he would kill her. “Her mother had not seen her for years,” the source said, “but when Ghazal grew a little older, she began to visit her mother in secret. When her father found out, she was locked up in the yard for a whole week with their dog, to be punished."
Ghazal’s resemblance of her mother incensed her father and on at least one occasion, which she later recounted to her months, led to him threatening to kill her. Ghazal's mother was unable to shelter her in her home as that would lead to violence against both of them – or reprisal from the rest of the father’s family, who were arranging for Ghazal to be married.
"Ghazal had a fiancé her father's family had nominated him,” the source explained. “But they also harassed Ghazal over meeting him. Now, after Ghazal's death, they are looking to blame her death on her fiancé so that they can receive blood money."
It is unknown at this time how Ghazal could have accessed methadone pills. Her father is not thought to be a drug user, despite his severe behavioral problems, and this has raised suspicions about the suicide.
“She called a few months ago and told her mother that her grandmother and her father beat her and hurt her,” the source said. “Apparently, their problem was Ghazal's relationship with the person to whom she was engaged.
“Ghazal's mother called social services and described Ghazal's situation. They tracked down the case and verified that Ghazal was not safe and transferred her to a center for abused and injured children in Khoramabad."
Ghazal's father, however, took legal action. He sought and obtained a court order that forced Ghazal to return to her grandmother.
The source reports that the family’s description of the events surrounding Ghazal’s death has changed several times. “At first they said she had committed suicide,” they said, “but then her father went to the police station and filed a complaint against Ghazal's fiancé. He said her fiancé had given her methadone pills. I don't know if they have any evidence for this or not."
Welfare Organizations are Toothless
Musa Barzin Khalifehlu, a lawyer and consultant for IranWire, has followed up on the case. “There are two important points to consider in this case,” he said. “The first is that the fact that this child was being abused had been established with local social services. Otherwise she would not have been transferred to the center for abused and injured children after her mother's phone call.
“Unfortunately, the weakness of the law shows itself once again here. Because according to law, welfare organizations can temporarily keep a child, but as soon as the child's father or grandfather can obtain the child's return order through the court and the judge, the welfare organization must follow the order.
“In such cases, the judges have to think of a solution. When they know that the child is being abused, they must act in advance to block the issuance of the child's return order and not return the child to the abusive parent’s home."
Responding to the ambiguity of the suicide story, he added: "Suicide is usually based on a forensic report and an autopsy test that indicates whether a suicide has occurred or not. In this case, if the child has taken the pills herself and there is no evidence that the pills were given to her by force, the murder hypothesis is not very plausible. Especially in areas such as Lorestan and Ilam, suicide and self-immolation are very common."
On the other hand, he says, "If any of the child's relatives raise suspicions of the suicide having been staged – or encouraged or incited – either in an anonymous letter or in person, it will trigger an investigation by the prosecutor’s office. In this case, given the child has been abused in the past, it would allow the matter to be pursued more sensitively.”
According to the hospital staff, Ghazal was brought to the hospital disastrously late, long after she had taken the pills. It is unknown at this time how strong the hypothesis of a staged suicide is. But either way, people close to Ghazal have confirmed she had been subjected to violence and has been repeatedly threatened with death by his father – making her death, by her own hands or by those of others, a horrific injustice.