In October, a series of attacks against women in Isfahan sent shockwaves across Iran. Unknown assailants threw acid into the faces of at least eight women in suspected retaliation against women wearing so-called “bad hejab” — or not dressing in line with strict Islamic code.
Two months on, police have made no arrests, and authorities seem no closer to identifying who is responsible for the crimes.
Isfahan MPs say they are pursuing the matter, and that they have offered support to the victims and their families. Yet according to one victim’s father, all but one of the cases has been neglected. The women who were attacked in Isfahan feel they have been forgotten, and that authorities have failed to take the matter seriously.
IranWire talked to two members of parliament from Isfahan and the father of Soheyla Joarkesh, one of the victims of the attacks.
Nayereh Akhavan Bitaraf MP not only represents Isfahan in parliament, she is also a member of the Women’s Faction in the assembly, which is responsible for upholding the rights of women. What is she doing to ensure the rights of women in her hometown are protected and that women feel safe on the street?
“After our visits, we gave recommendations for medical treatment,” she says. The women and their families are quite satisfied with what is being done for them. We will continue to do whatever we can. Hospital officials and doctors will also do what they can.” When I ask why the perpetrators have yet to be identified, she insists the attacks have been properly investigated, but unfortunately this has not led to any arrests.
“It’s because there were no surveillance cameras where the attacks happened. The officials had to rely on whatever eyewitness testimonies were available. Unfortunately, they have not got anywhere.” Is there any hope of finding them? I ask. “To be honest,” she says, “Well, you know, we haven't found the acid throwers. That's all I can say.”, before rushing off to another meeting.
Hassan Kamran MP sits on the National Security Commission and has presented a number of security-related bills to parliament, speaking publicly on his research findings on a regular basis. Now that Isfahan has been the site of such significant security problems, does he think Isfahan is unsafe in general?
“It is not true,” he says. “Isfahan has always been safe.” Kamran denied that women had felt so insecure they were unwilling to leave their homes. “Who told you this? How did you talk them? Through Facebook? You cannot rely on these things.”
“Traitors launched acid attacks to malign the Islamic Republic,” Kamran said, echoing comments made some hardliner politicians, suggesting that the attacks were the work of people outside Isfahan — or even further afield. “They were successful at the beginning. But the sensible people of Isfahan became aware very early on that these were all enemy plots.”
“A couple of days after the news came out, people were worried,” he said, playing down report that fear had gripped the city. “But they stopped worrying when they were reassured the culprits were going to prosecuted.”
When I reminded him that no one had been arrested for the crimes, he said that a special investigative team had been put on the case. “There are clues and, God willing, the criminals will be caught soon.” But when I push him on the clues, he says, “We should leave this to detectives at the Investigation Bureau. Their findings will be published when the job is done.”
“I am constantly following this up,” Kamran said. “I ask the women who were attacked how they are. If they ask me, I don’t hesitate to help them. I have asked members of the Health Commission to pursue this and monitor how the victims are being treated.”
Soheyla Joarkesh was one of several women attacked in October. Her vision was seriously injured in the acid attack. Since the news broke of the attack against his daughter, her father has spoken to the media about his daughter’s condition and what the attack has done to their lives. He is frustrated that authorities seem to have done so little to catch the perpetrators.
“They promised us they would arrest them, but no one has been arrested. A month after the event they said that have found clues. Later, we received a call from an unknown number. The caller said he was from the Bureau of Intelligence. He asked us personal questions, like whether we had argued with anyone recently.”
Though the police and judiciary authorities keep saying they have uncovered clues about the crime, Joarkesh says that, after some time passed, police told them the clues were “misleading.”
In November, the Minister of Health, Dr. Hashemi, operated on one of Soheyla Joarkesh’s cornea. “They performed some extensive operations on the left eye and grafted blood vessels from other places,” her father says. “Fortunately after seven operations, they told us that one of the vessels has taken,” he says. It is expected that she will need a cornea transplant. “One of her eyes is fully covered. We have been told that it will take a year for the eye to reattach itself to the body because the blood vessels have been severed.”
“The healing process is going very slowly,” her father says. “The skin surgery is done, the burns have dried up and now ointments have been applied. Next comes plastic surgery. But plastic surgery is not what worries us. Our daughter has problems with her sight.
When I mention that the Isfahan MPs I spoke to say they are constantly following the case and the situation for acid attack victims, Soheyla Joarkesh’s father says, “Nobody has offered us help or consolation except Dr. Hashemi. The governor of Isfahan paid us a visit once. Otherwise nobody has visited or consoled us or has given us any assurances about the future.”
Although Joarkesh risked criticism by talking to the foreign media, he did it in the belief that it might help his daughter, even in a small way, particularly since Iranian authorities have not had any success, or really demonstrated what they are doing to bring about justice.
“My child has been destroyed. I want the assailant or the assailants to be apprehended. They have made a mockery of the government. It shows the weakness of the government when — in broad daylight — people can get away with throwing acid on children. Those who claim to be running the country and want the country to be safe better catch these people. They must let people know who is responsible, even if it is a prominent figure in society.”
They must be brought to justice, Soheyla Joarkesh’s father says. “Whoever did this has committed a serious offence against both women and the government.”