By Banafsheh Zand
The story of a 14-year-old girl who was beheaded by her father has drawn public ire throughout Iran. The news of Romina Ashrafi’s murder was first published on May 21st on some local social messaging channels. But what is the story of this heinous honor killing?
The motivation behind the murder
According to a local media outlet (Gil Khabar) 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi from the Village of Haviq (northern Iranian province of Gilan), fell in love with local man, 28-year-old Bahman Khavari. According to area residents, Romina’s 37-year-old father, Karbala Reza Ashrafi, strongly opposed the couple’s marriage due to “religious differences,” leading to their decision to run away together. With both families and the police in pursuit however, the couple were apprehended by law enforcement. Romina is said to have pleaded not to be returned home, explaining that her father’s temper and ongoing abuse had her fearing for her life. But under Sharia law, the police had to relinquish the teenage girl into her father’s custody.
The day of the crime
Evidence suggests that after Romina return home, her father’s anger sent him over the edge. On June 1st, Karbala Reza Ashrafi, first tries to suffocate his daughter, and when he fails, he severs her head with a sickle. With the mother wailing and the commotion of neighbors around the scene of the crime, the police arrive and arrest the father who had the bloody sickle in his hand, on the spot.
He said, they said
It goes without saying that statements made by Bahman Khavari and Esfandiar Ashrafi, the victim’s uncle and brother of the murderer, would contradict each other.
Bahman describes his relationship with Romina as romantic and Romina’s uncle, however, claims it was based on fear and intimidation.
In the first audio interview with Bahman Khavari, he says: “[Romina] had told me that my father really harasses and torments me. After a while, she asked me to come and take her away. She had sort of taken refuge with me. I told her that she was too young. Why don’t you stick around and we’ll figure it out somehow. But she refused and asked that I take her away. So, at one point, I sent their neighbor (whom I knew) over to talk to her dad about the fact that I really love his daughter. The father told the neighbor, that he refuses to let his daughter marry into ‘a bunch of Sunnis.’ I’m from the same district of Talesh, but I’m from another nearby village.”
“I’m 28 and everyone is leaving some (nasty) comment on my social media. When a rich 70-year-old man comes to marry a 20-year-old girl, it’s because he has money…it’s not a crime. But when I loved her and she loved me and I respected her, is that a crime?”
“We have been in love for a few months and finally I decided to offer a marriage proposal for her father to consider. But because we were not of the same religion, they opposed it. That’s why Romina told me that her father would not relent and that we should run away together. That’s how we escaped together and disappeared for five days. It was after this incident that her father filed a complaint with the local police, accusing me of kidnapping. He even accused me of anesthetizing his her and robbing her. When Romina appeared at the same police office, she told them that she had left with me on her own volition; but her father refused to accept that. He then lodged another complaint against me with the detective’s office in the Astara Township. Several days later, the detectives called me in for questioning. Several relatives then approached us and suggested to do a temporary marriage for now, until things settle down. But her father had coordinated my arrest with the police. During the interrogation, I said that I loved her and there was no coercion, and Romina herself confirmed this during her questioning. “I stayed in detention for one night but was eventually acquitted.”
After this incident, Romina is forced to return home, and according to Bahman, when her mother was busy with the laundry, the father first tried to suffocate his daughter, and when he fails, he cuts off the girl’s head with a sickle.
The story, however, differs greatly when the killer’s brother, Esfandiar Ashrafi recounts it. He claims religious differences were not important at all, and that Bahman had threatened and intimidated his niece. He claims: “After all that was said and done, we even accepted his proposal of marriage, but the boy’s family said no, and our son was wrong. We even brought the notary to marry them, but Bahman wanted something else.”
He says Bahman deceived Romina and then led his brother to the brink of insanity: “The boy has called me many times during this time and threatened us. He insults us. If he hadn’t sent a picture of Romina, these things wouldn’t have happened. Which man posts a photo of himself on Instagram when he wants to marry a girl? “Which man is spreading the image of his ‘honor’ in the world? We were a proud family, but that guy had to ruin us.”
Disgracing one’s honor or that of one’s family is an accusation that makes women victims of honor killings. Neither a court nor a lawyer or judge is required to make a final verdict on the charge, when men, heads of the family conclude that their reputation has been tarnished.
Either way, these days, the murderer father is in prison and Romina’s mother and 6-year-old brother are not the only mourners; area residents are said to be in shock and in deep mourning.
Romina’s mother, Ra’ana Dashti tells an interviewer: “It’s been six days since I lost her…when this happened, I was at home and I was doing the laundry, when all of a sudden the door (of the laundry room) closed and then locked. I just started screaming and pulling the door. I kept pounding on the door, but no one would open the door. I called Romina, her father and there was no response. My six-year-old son was sleeping in the same room, next to Romina when he killed her.”
Her explanation of Khavari’s relationship with Romina goes along the lines of that of her husband’s family, though with much less accusatory tone. She does admit to horrors such as the fact that her husband, a man with a brutal temper, who claimed to love his daughter, repeatedly asked his wife to teach Romina to hang herself, but she refused. She also recounts the fact that he bought rat poison and handed it to his daughter, telling her to take it and kill herself, otherwise he would have to do it. She adds: “I want the judge to hand down a retaliatory sentence to him; I can’t stand to even look at her.”
Kazem Razmi, the local sheriff announced that Reza Ashrafi will continue to be detained for further investigation. Details of the trial have not, as of yet, been released.
The father will likely not pay for his crime
Under the Khomeinist regime’s penal code or version of Sharia law, Romina’s father is not considered a murderer.
According to Article 220 of the Islamic regime’s Penal Code, the father, as guardian will not be sentenced to death, according to the Islamic law of Qisas (retaliation in kind) in the murder of his of his child. However, law of Tazir and Diya is applicable which leaves the sentencing at the discretion of the Sharia judge. This means that Ashrafi could be sentenced to a term of anywhere between three to ten years in prison.
Worse yet, the widespread publication of the teen’s funeral service announcement on social media, where Romina’s father is named as lead mourner, has amplified public outrage.
Look into the Romina’s funeral announcement.
Her father’s name (The MURDERER) is in the first line of mourners.
By the law, he will be sentenced to just a few (probably 3) years of jail.
Instead of the 13-year-old girl, her killer will be under protection of law. https://t.co/fklNJitZkT pic.twitter.com/Ljxm9rsGu5
— Saghi Laghaie (@SaghiLaghaie) May 26, 2020
The final insult comes via Romina’s funeral notice. The first name among mourners is her own murderer/father; the rest are exclusively her paternal family. An illustration in writing of deeply unjust male-centric norms favored and upheld by the state. (4/4) #رومینا_اشرفی pic.twitter.com/O8CXzkx9k2
— Tavaana (@Tavaana) May 26, 2020
The announcement also does not include the names of a single female member of Romina’s family; however, both her grandfathers, her brothers and uncles are prominently mentioned. The location of the funeral had been announced as her paternal grandfather’s house in the village of Sefeed-Sangaan.
Based on reports published by various Iranian media outlets, the biggest number of crimes in Iran, are honor killings. Per year, more than 400 instances of such crime occur, making it over 20% of murders in general and 50% of the murders committed in the course of domestic violence in Iran.
Honor killings are more common in patriarchal or rural communities and provinces where tribal and religious grounding is much more prevalent. The killing of a girl by her father, with honor as motive and under the pretext of preserving the family’s “honor” and reputation is one of the most common cases of such murders.
Violence against women and honor killings are also common in other parts of the world, especially in countries with conservative and extremist Islamic communities.