By Maryam Dehkordi
November 16, 2020
A photograph shows a woman sitting down, three children in her arms. Her name is Mojgan Gashol. She was killed by her husband, who administered severe blows to her head less than 10 days ago. Her body is now buried in a corner of a rural cemetery in northern Khuzestan.
IranWire spoke to a source who knew Mojgan Gashol. “Mojgan was born in 1985. She had three sons, two of whom are twins. Mojgan lived in Saland, one of the northern areas of Dezful. She complained a lot about her husband’s addiction and had gone to her father’s house two months ago and made a firm decision to get a divorce. The day before the murder, as usual, she had returned to her husband’s house after mediation from the family elders.”
According to the source, every time Mojgan had raised the issue of separation from her husband over the last few years, the elders of the family encouraged her to return home and endure the situation for the sake of her children. Having no other place to go, she had to return to her life: “This time, after two months of fighting, she was forced to return home the night before the incident. However, we think she knew she was not safe at home. She had seen a lot of violence from her husband. The night before the incident, she posted a story on WhatsApp and asked her mother to forgive her.”
Mojgan returned home to her husband, and he murdered her the next morning. Local sources initially described the weapon as a sharp ax, but when the Dezful police chief confirmed the news of the murder, he said the woman’s husband killed her by hitting her with an iron bar, the sort often used in plumbing and water systems.
According to the source IranWire spoke to, Mojgan Gashol’s youngest child saw his mother’s body covered in blood, and he is severely traumatized: “Mojgan’s young child constantly wakes up in the night and cries. Mojgan’s husband left the house after killing her, and the child was confronted with his mother’s bloody body as soon as he woke up. Now he keeps saying, ‘my mother’s brain was shattered.’ Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone cares about these children as they should.”
The Dezful police chief referred to the murder as a “family dispute,” reporting that the husband was arrested hours later and admitted to the murder. “Dezful is one of the most religious cities of Khuzestan province,” the source IranWire spoke to said. “The culture is such that no one talks about the details of family disputes, especially if it has led to murder or assault. The fact is that Mojgan’s problem was her husband’s addiction, but no one, neither her husband nor her relatives and the elders of the family, considered this to be a good reason for the couple to separate, and some members of her family speculated that she was asking for a divorce because she was having a relationship with someone else. But this was nothing but suspicion, and the reality is that Mojgan Gashol was a victim of traditional customs and practices, rumors and misconceptions. The family’s elders forced her to return to a destructive and violent relationship, despite being aware of her physical and psychological insecurity, a situation like that of many other women in Iran.”
Both Culture and Law Need an Overhaul
IranWire spoke to Samaneh Savadi, a lawyer and activist for equal rights. “The reality is that we do not have a clear answer to the question of whether the law should be reformed first, or the culture. Unfortunately, women in the process of divorce and separation in Iran are faced with highly inefficient laws, which in many cases do not consider the reasons for their separation sufficient. In Mojgan’s case, it is important to see that the woman’s family and relatives do not see her husband’s addiction as a sufficient reason for separation. Even if the woman succeeded in gaining the support of her family, the law would only have justified her separation on the condition that her husband’s addiction was deemed harmful and destructive.”
Savadi says that in Iranian law, the definition of “harmful addiction” is an addiction that constitutes a threat to the family. So in other words, for example, if a person uses recreational drugs on weekends or is in a good financial position and his addiction does not endanger the livelihood of his family, his addiction is not considered to be harmful and such a person’s spouse cannot justify separation from him on these grounds.
“This application of the law is in a way influenced by culture,” Savadi says. “The law of society also says that a man has a duty, for example, to provide a living, shelter and clothes for the family, and if he does this, it is not a problem if he has an addiction. Or if he was addicted and violent, but the family was still being fed, there is no problem. The elders of the family also come to the aid of the law in these cases as a repressive arm of the patriarchal system.”
The Strange Death of Mina
Mojgan Gashol is of course not the only woman who has been brutally murdered by her husband.
In April 2020, news emerged about the murder of a woman named Mina who was stabbed to death after a fight with her husband. In this case also, the woman had insisted the couple separate, and this might have been one of the reasons she was murdered. The 34-year-old husband said in his confession: ‘It has been a year since my wife insisted that we separate. We had been in love for 12 years and have two daughters. I do not know why my wife insisted on separation a year ago. She said she no longer wanted us to live together.”
He claimed that he never abused his wife. But on the way back from Tehran, when their two-year-old child was asleep, he and his wife got into an argument and Mina threatened to kill herself. “I told my wife that we have to endure the situation because of the children, even if we do not love each other. My wife had been taking neuroleptics for some time and was anxious. She did not pay attention to what I said. We were returning from a trip on the day of the accident. I argued with my wife in the car. I told her I would not divorce her and if she wanted, she could go to her mother’s house for a while and stay there until she felt better. She swore at me. She called me and my family all sorts of things. I was calm. But when she took out a knife and told me she was going to kill herself and me, I became very distressed. My daughter woke up to the sound of us arguing and my wife turned the knife on the child. I was so upset, I could no longer control myself and I hit her on the head. My wife died on the spot.”
The media has not had access to any further information about the case, and it is difficult to corroborate the husband’s story. However, says Samaneh Savadi, Iranian society and law tend to favor claims made by men in these sorts of cases. ”Unfortunately, in a patriarchal culture and system, the role of the woman is not even considered. A woman says, ‘I do not want to stay in this relationship for this or that reason,’ or another says, ‘I cannot stand my husband’s addiction.’ People around her and even her husband say this is not a reason for divorce and automatically cite another relationship as the cause — the belief is, if this woman does not want her husband, then she certainly wants another man. Of course this is not necessarily the case.” She says because this assumption is so embedded, the woman is already at a disadvantage, and in extreme cases, her life is at risk.
The lawyer again emphasized that in these cases, it is difficult to separate the boundaries of law and culture, and this makes the situation even more complex. “On the one hand, patriarchal culture does not recognize a woman’s rights and individuality, and, influenced by all sorts of assumptions and suspicions, puts the woman into the abyss of violence. On the other hand, when a man kills his wife, daughter, or sister as a result of these suspicions or assumptions — the suspicion that she is having an affair, without having a single shred of evidence to prove it — the law tells him, ‘We understand you!’ Not that it gives him the right and permission to do so [to kill], but the law generally supports the view that ‘you, a man, have become temporarily insane due to passion.’ Therefore the murderer’s crimes are dealt with as if he was out of control of his senses and his power of logic, as if he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder and could not make responsible decisions. Here, the law may not consider the perpetrator to be innocent, but it does not provide much punishment for him.”
The source who spoke to IranWire about the murder of Mojgan Gashol said no one in Saland or Dezful talked about what happened, and Mojgan’s husband has not said anything either. Everyone is worried about what the wider world will think about the city, about the city’s reputation. “I mean, they are not even worried about the reputation of the family, they are worried that the reputation of the city will be ruined. I’m worried about those three poor children.” The source added that in addition to what they have gone through, these children will now be told lies about what happened. Their father will be cast as a hero, the source says, and the reputation of the city will not be tarnished.