By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
October 6, 2020
News of yet another horrific honor killing has shaken Iran, and yet again the reported victim was no more than a child.
On Thursday, October 1 the agency HRANA was first to share the news that Zahra Nasouri, a first-grade student at Shahid Mohammad Tashani High School in Kangan County, Bushehr province, had been murdered by her brother.
“Zahra Nasouri was killed by her brother a few days ago with the motive of honor,” HRANA reported. “A forensic report states that she was strangled.”
Few details of what happened to Zahra or the police investigation have so far been published. But she is far from the only student to have been murdered in cold blood by her family or community based on an arcane conception of “honor”.
Five days ago, news surfaced that a first-grade student, Zahra Nasouri, had been killed in an honor-related homicide in the small port city of Bank, Buhshehr province. The forensic report gave her cause of death as asphyxiation and the news agency HRANA reported that she had been strangled by her brother.
As if this were not bad enough, HRANA went on to report that this was not the first honor killing to have taken place in the Nasouri family. A few years ago, Zahra’s uncle reportedly threw his daughter – her cousin – into a well. The girl’s body was not recovered until several days later.
Just weeks before Zahra Nasouri was murdered, another 16-year-old girl was shot dead by her brother in the Qaleh Shahin district of Sarpol-e Zahab County. At first, the young man’s family claimed that he had accidentally shot her while cleaning the gun. But during interrogation the killer admitted his sister’s death had been a premeditated murder motivated by “honor”.
Tragedy Upon Tragedy: Girls and Women Killed on Unbelievable Pretexts
In May this year the sickening murder of 13-year-old schoolgirl Romina Ashrafi made headlines around the world. Romina was killed after attempting to flee the family home to marry the boy she loved. On being returned to her parents’ house by the Iranian authorities, despite her pleas for protection, she was murdered by her father in her sleep with a sickle.
The murder of young girls by the men in their families is often sparked by the most trivial of incidences or unreasonable suspicions. Last year a 16-year-old girl was strangled by her brother in a small village in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, reportedly because of a dispute over her “improper” clothing.
Other girls have been killed, like Romina, because of a perceived slight against their families. In 2017 a 17-year-old girl from the village of Tashan in Behbahan County, Narges Ali Shojaei, was killed by her brothers after attempting suicide.
Narges, described by neighbours as a resilient, calm and educated girl, had slit her wrists in protest against a planned forced marriage to her cousin. She survived and was transferred to the nearby Shahidzadeh Hospital to recover. Some days later, Narges was discharged, whereupon she was shot three times in the dead of night by her brothers Ali Asghar and Mehdi to neutralize the “insult” of her suicide attempt.
In honor killings, the murderer is often aided and abetted by other family members and sometimes even the wider community. In November 2019, a young man living in the city of Kuhchenar in Fars province hanged his 29-year-old sister and, together with other family members, pretended that his sister had committed suicide. His version of events became confused at interrogation and he was eventually jailed after admitting he had murdered her over a “disagreement” and “family problems”.
Zahra Ravan Aram, an Iranian family lawyer, told IranWire: “The real issues behind these so-called family problems can be an insistence on forced marriage with someone who is not compatible with the girl, a woman’s separation from her spouse – who may not be a suitable person for her or have problems such as addiction or long-term unemployment – a girl having simply chosen her own partner, or even her having been raped.”
Male Perpetrators Need Psychiatric Help
Ravan Aram believes that some of the men who commit honor killings are suffering from paranoid personality disorder: a serious mental illness that is often not taken seriously, with disastrous consequences.
“Unfortunately,” clinical psychiatrist Razieh Dehdashti told IranWire, “instead of paying attention to treatment, the local community often considers the man’s paranoia and suspicion as zeal for “honor” and treats him like a hero, when he is actually seriously ill.
“Paranoid personality disorder has its roots in childhood and is affected by factors such as poverty, psychological damage and a lack of emotional attention. Paranoid people are usually gullible, and often violent and controlling, quickly assuming that they have been betrayed and reacting with anger.”
In June 2020, a 21-year-old boy named Amir Zendegani, who lived in the Soleiman Darab neighborhood of Rasht and had long been considered a good man by those around him, set his sister on fire in a moment of unbridled rage.
Zendegani had wanted to become a professional footballer. But instead, because of the hardship he and his family were facing, he was forced to collect garbage and sell flowers at a crossroads. Zendegani was opposed to his teenage sister’s plans to marry the man she loved and one day, on returning home to find his father using drugs in the family home, he set the house on fire in a rage. His sister was burned to death.
“These people do not have the capacity to manage their anger,” Dehdashti told IranWire. “They are vindictive, do not forgive easily, and indulge their inner negative feelings. But at the same time, they believe that the reason for their anger is the behavior of others, and they are not willing to address the illness or see a psychiatrist.”
This physician believes that a warped understanding of tradition and “honor” gives some people with paranoid personality disorder the sense that they are on a crusade, rather than psychologically unstable. Seeking a positive reaction from their social environment, they carry out horrific acts to attract attention and validate their position.
“The extent of the violence inflicted by the abuser depends on the severity or weakness of their illness,” Dehdashti says. “This means that if the illness is severe, there is a greater likelihood of uncontrolled violence.”
Iranian Law is Part of the Problem
Unfortunately parts of the antiquated penal code in the Islamic Republic of Iran make room for this mentality to flourish. Article 630 of the Islamic Penal Code, for example, states that if a man catching his wife committing adultery he is within his rights to kill her. For this reason, Dehdashti says, “In many cases [in which a man has murdered his spouse] the killer immediately alleges infidelity.”
If a man can convince the court that at the time of the killing, he truly believed his wife was having an affair, he will only be charged with “quasi-premeditated murder” and is only required to pay blood money rather than facing a custodial sentence. “The blood money for a woman is half of that for a man,” Dehdashti adds, “and is arranged with the collaboration of the family members of the killer. Then, he can immediately returns to a normal life.”
Some “honor killings” in Iran take place in the aftermath of a woman asking for a divorce, which is regarded as a great shame in some traditional families. On the evening of July 28, 2017, a 42-year-old woman was hospitalized in Tehran with bruises on her body, and later died. The woman’s family initially claimed she had committed suicide, the traces of the beating aroused the suspicions of the police, and finally, a year later, it transpired that her 20-years-younger brother had strangled her to death because of her plans to divorce her husband.
Zahra Ravan Aram told IranWire that in “99 per cent” of such cases, the perpetrators of even the most blatant of “honor-related” murders evade justice. “In fact, the law is used as an excuse to acquit the person. Because according to all the laws on the subject of qisas (retribution), the decision-maker [on what is owed] in all cases is the blood relative. The blood relative, where they are not complicit with or sympathetic to the killer, is the relative of the killer and naturally does not wish to lose another. For this reason, the case is usually closed with the parents’ consent.”
In cases such as that of Zahra Nasouri, the parents may give their consent to a pardon for the killer. As if the girls and women who fall victims to these crimes, themselves born out of a paranoid delusion of justice for a crime never committed, never existed at all.