After Sajjad Heydari beheaded his 17-year-old wife, Mona Heydari, he paraded her severed head in the streets of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz in an attempt to prove that he’s an honorable man. Footage of the macabre scene was posted online showing him smiling.
Mona Heydari’s killing, which was reported on February 5, is the latest publicized case of an "honor killing" in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives on the grounds they dishonored their family for any number of alleged moral failings -- including eloping, committing adultery, requesting a divorce, or even unfounded accusations of tainting the family's reputation.
The gruesome killing in the capital of Khuzestan Province has shocked the nation and renewed a debate about widespread violence against women and the lack of legal protections.
Mona Heydari had reportedly fled to Turkey months before her slaying to live with a Syrian man she had met online. The young wife and mother of a 3-year-old son was killed a few days after she returned to Iran after reportedly receiving assurances from her family that she would be safe.
Her husband and his brother, who reportedly helped carry out the crime, are in custody.
Reports say Mona Heydari had been forced into marrying her cousin and that she had given birth to her son when she was only 14. According to Iranian media reports, she is said to have been subjected to violence by her husband, who had refused to divorce her.
Many in Iran have blamed the Islamic legal system as well as the country's patriarchal culture and traditions for fostering an environment that allows for such a killing, which comes less than two years after 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was beheaded by her father in northern Iran. Ashrafi’s father, who before killing her had consulted a lawyer to find out what punishment he could face for the crime, was later sentenced to eight years in prison.
U.S.-based sociologist Hossein Ghazian told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that many men believe the women in their families are their property.
“Men own the mind and bodies of women. They draw a line and consider it a societal duty to protect their honor," Ghazian said. “If they fail, they believe they have to prove their honor, and [often] do so by by killing the women whose bodies have been violated."
'There Is No Law'
Female lawmaker Elham Azad said “there is no law with an executive guarantee” to protect women from violence in Iran.
She expressed hope that pending legislation on the Protection, Dignity And Security Of Women Against Violence would prevent such horrific crimes in the future.
Although Romina's mother was terribly afraid for herself...and this concern was raised many times in court, we did not get any results. Why? Because there are problems in this field when it comes to the law.”-- Lawyer Ebrahim Nikdel Ghadam
The bill, passed by the government of then-President Hassan Rohani in January 2021 but waiting to be passed into law by parliament, criminalizes violence against women, including action or behavior that causes "physical or mental harm" to women.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that, despite having "a number of positive provisions," the proposed legislation falls short of international standards.
Iran's vice president for women's and family affairs, Aniseh Khazali, wrote on Twitter in the wake of Mona Heydari's killing that parliament placed an urgent review of the bill on its agenda after fixing “shortcomings.”
Khazali also said that the judiciary is determined to impose the most severe punishment against Sajjad Heydari and his accomplice. She did not provide further details.
'We Did Not Get Any Results'
Lawyer Ebrahim Nikdel Ghadam, who represented Ashrafi’s high-profile case, argued in court at that time that Iranian law did not create a deterrent against such killings.
He said Ashrafi’s father did not receive the highest sentence he could receive for murdering a child, which is punishable by three to 10 years. He was exempt from the "retribution" law -- meaning the death penalty -- since according to the Islamic Penal Code he was the girl's guardian.
The beheaded child bride might be alive today if Iran's government had enacted laws against the cruel practice of child marriage and protections against domestic violence."-- Hadi Ghaemi, Center for Human Rights in Iran
However, Nikdel Ghadam said the court didn’t accept an additional punishment of internal exile, which is allowed under Iranian law.
"Although Romina's mother was terribly afraid for herself...and this concern was raised many times in court, we did not get any results. Why? Because there are problems in this field when it comes to the law,” he said.
He also suggested that light sentences for those who kill their female relatives pave the way for more such killings.
"We see that they did not deal with the case and a brutal murder properly to set [an example], and the result was that less than two years later we are witnessing another tragic event, another life lost," he said.
Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, said Iranian authorities are "as responsible for Heydari’s death as her murderers."
"The beheaded child bride might be alive today if Iran's government had enacted laws against the cruel practice of child marriage and protections against domestic violence," Ghaemi said on Twitter.
There are no reliable statistics kept about honor killings in Iran. Many cases are believed to go unreported and are hushed up.
Social activist Atefeh Baravieh told the Andishey Pouya publication last month that in the past two years 60 women in the province of Khuzestan were victims of "honor killings," while none of the perpetrators has faced judicial action and the families have not filed lawsuits.
She said the real number of such killings is likely to be higher.