Honor Killings Sanctioned by Law Take New Toll on Iranian Women


By Farnaz Fassihi

Only three weeks after the harrowing murder of Romina Ashrafi,13, who was beheaded in her sleep by her own father, two young women are murdered by their family members.

The tragic deaths of Fatemeh Barihi, 19 and Reyhaneh Ameri, 22, who were murdered by their husband and father respectively, reinitiated the bitter debate over the savage honor killings in Iran sanctioned and institutionalized by the laws of the clerical regime.

Reyhaneh Ameri, 22, was killed on June 15 by her father with an ax for coming home late.
Reyhaneh had returned home at around 11:30 pm the night before and had a quarrel with her father.

The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old girl in Iran has shaken the country and forced an examination of its failure to protect women and children.

Before he beheaded his 14-year-old daughter with a farming sickle, Reza Ashrafi called a lawyer. His daughter, Romina, was going to dishonor the family by running off with her 29-year-old boyfriend, he said. What kind of punishment, he asked the lawyer, would he get for killing her?

The lawyer assured him that as the girl’s guardian he would not face capital punishment but at most 3 to 10 years in jail, Mr. Ashrafi’s relatives told an Iranian newspaper. Three weeks later, Mr. Ashrafi, a 37-year-old farmer, marched into the bedroom where the girl was sleeping and decapitated her.


L-Reyhaneh Ameri, 22, was killed on June 15 by her father with an ax for coming home late. R-Fatemeh Barihi, 19, was beheaded by her husband on June 13.

The so-called honor killing last month May 2020, in a small village in the rolling green hills of northern Iran, has shaken the country and set off a nationwide debate over the rights of women and children and the failure of the country’s social, religious and legal systems to protect them.

It has also prompted a me-too moment on social media of women pouring out their own stories of abuse at the hands of male relatives in hopes of shedding light on a problem that is usually kept quiet. Minoo, a 49-year-old mother of two in Tehran, said her husband had beaten their 17-year-old daughter when he spotted her with a male friend in the street.

“There are thousands of Rominas who have no protection in this country,” tweeted Kimia Abodlahzadeh.

In many ways, women in Iran are better off than those in many other Middle Eastern countries.

Iranian women work as lawyers, doctors, pilots, film directors and truck drivers. They hold 60 percent of university seats and constitute 50 percent of the work force. They can run for office, and they hold seats in the Parliament and cabinet.

But there are restrictions. Women must cover their hair, arms and curves in public, and they need the permission of a male relative to leave the country, ask for a divorce or work outside the home.

Honor killings are thought to be rare but that may be because they are usually hushed up. A 2019 report by a research center affiliated with Iran’s armed forces found that nearly 30 percent of all murder cases in Iran were honor killings of women and girls. The number is unknown, however, as Iran does not publicly release crime statistics.

Horror over the killing of Romina Ashrafi, a round-faced high school student with a bright smile, was nearly universal, condemned by liberals and conservatives alike. Her father is in jail awaiting trial. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for “harsh punishment” for any man who abuses women in what appeared to be a reference to Romina’s case.

Romina Ashrafi
Romina Ashrafi

But the question of what to do about it broke along familiar lines. “Everyone is infuriated and shocked because it’s a reminder that these laws are abnormal, these laws need to change,” said Shadi Sadr, a prominent women’s rights lawyer living in exile in London. “These laws were not meant for a woman or a child to be killed.”

Conservatives defended the existing laws and blamed Romina for promiscuity and disobeying religious and cultural strictures.

“The laws for violence against women are enough,” Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, a conservative cleric and lawmaker, told local media. “We cannot execute Romina’s father because it’s against Islamic law.”

President Hassan Rouhani asked Parliament last week to fast-track legislation to protect women. The bill, which has been pending in Parliament for eight years, would criminalize emotional, sexual and physical abuse and impose jail time for violators.

“How is it possible that a father kills and he is not held accountable and he does not face capital punishment?” Faezeh Hashemi, a prominent women’s rights activist and former lawmaker, told local media. “If we want to approach this issue with logic, wisdom and justice, the father needs to face retaliation punishment multiple times over.”

He confiscated Romina’s phone, kept her at home and began to threaten and terrorize her, Ms. Dashti told an Iranian magazine. One evening he came home with rat poison and rope, she said, encouraging Romina to commit suicide so he wouldn’t have to kill her.

“Baba you wanted to kill me,” it said, addressing her father. “If anyone asks you where Romina is, tell them I am dead.”

The struggle for women’s rights has a long history in Iran but has suffered setbacks since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The women’s movement was finally dismantled as an organized effort in 2009, criminalized on grounds that it threatened national security.

Today its most prominent faces, including the Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and the feminist lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, are either in exile or in jail. Even Ms. Hashemi, whose father was president and a founding father of the revolution, was jailed.



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