Femicide happened in Sefid Sangan-é Lamir, a small town in the Gilan province of northern Iran. According to the testimony of Bahman Khavari, the 34-year-old man who fled with Romina Ashrafi, he and the teenager had a story that lasted “for a few years”, as reported by local news agencies. However, the girl’s father opposed their marriage, not because of the girl’s age – in Iran women can marry from the age of 13 – but because she didn’t want her Shiite daughter to join a Sunni. After the escape, her father filed a kidnapping complaint against Bahman Khavari.
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The two were arrested five days later and Romina Ashrafi had been returned to her father, despite the fact that the girl had reported to the police that she feared a violent reaction. The next day the father tried to strangle his daughter in his sleep, without success, then deciding to use a scythe to decapitate her. Shortly afterwards, the neighbors, hearing the cries of his wife, called the police. According to local newspapers, the man was seen leaving the house with a scythe in his hands and confessed.
Romina Ashrafi’s femicide has created many protests on social networks, in Iran but not only, against the patriarchal laws in force in the country, institutionalized violence and the lack of any form of protection for women and girls. Some feminist activists said that the real murderer is the Islamic republic of Iran. Tara Sepehri Far of the NGO Human Rights Watch said that “Romina was a child”, who therefore “was vulnerable” and that “the law has failed to protect her”. The hashtag #Romina_Ashrafi has been shared thousands of times and the photo of the young woman has been published (which is quite exceptional) also on the front pages of some local newspapers, with titles such as “Insecure paternal home” and “Romina’s tragedy”.
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According to article 220 of the Islamic penal code, the father is the “guardian” of his daughters and in the case of a so-called “honor killing” – a crime perpetrated for the purpose of “redeeming” the honor of the family – one is expected penalty discount. Romina Ashrafi’s father therefore does not risk the death penalty as it would be for another murder in Iran, but from three to ten years in prison and the payment of compensation. Romina Ashrafi’s statements – who had clearly reported that she feared for her life if she returned home – had no bearing on the police decision to return her to her father. Finally there is the question of early marriages: it was taken for granted that the fault of the escape and of “dishonor” would fall exclusively on her and without instead any consequence for the adult man with whom she had run away or from whom she had been, for many and many, manipulated. Even many Italian newspapers that deal with the affair mention “love” between the two, taking for granted the idea that we are talking about a “loving couple”.
The protests grew even more after the announcement of Romina Ashrafi’s funeral spoke of “destiny willed by God”: alongside the red rose that appeared instead of her photo, the men of the mourning family were listed, and the first on the list was his father. Not only that: as the Iranian journalist and feminist activist Masih Alinejad discovered, the newspaper Jam-e Jam (near Iranian state television) edited the only photo available of Romina Ashrafi to make sure that her hair, as a sign of modesty, was not shown in the veil. After Masih Alinejad’s post went viral, the newspaper removed the photo.
Shame on Islamic Republic state media for covering Romina’s hair by photoshop. She was 13 and murdered by her father. Now they depicting the victim of an honor killing in “appreciate hijab” for her honor. They killed her again.This is gender apartheid not cultural difference. pic.twitter.com/qMh6COeGCy
– Masih Alinejad ???? ️ (@AlinejadMasih) May 27, 2020
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has asked to intervene as soon as possible on the so-called “honor killings” and Shahnaz Sajjadi, adviser to the president, has called for a change in the “common thought that the home is a safe place for children and women ». Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar added that a rule for the protection of minors is in the “final phase” of evaluation by the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, a rule which in the past, however, had already been rejected three times because it was considered contrary to the inspiring principles of the Islamic republic.
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In Iran there is no official number on women who are killed by family members or relatives for actions perceived as violations of Islamic norms or social customs. In 2014, a Tehran police officer, Hadi Mostafayi, said that 20 percent of the murders in Iran were crimes of this nature. The Iranian Association for the Defense of Children’s Rights, an independent non-governmental organization, said it had counted at least 30 girls killed by their fathers since 2001. The figure refers only to cases that have been reported in the media, but there are likely to be many others that have remained invisible.