Execution of a teenager – A followup

Here is a follow-up of the blog I posted October, 17th.

photo-atefeh.jpg

Neka (northern Iran), Aug 31 – The orphaned 16-year-old girl hanged in front of residents in this town close to the Caspian Sea on August 15 suffered years of brutal violence, exploitation and torture in the hands of relatives, local officials and plain strangers, and in a country where girls are the most vulnerable members of society, she had no one to go to for help.

The tragic picture emerges from dozens of interviews conducted by an Iran Focus correspondent with Atefeh Rajabi’s classmates, friends, relatives and neighbors in this humid, overcrowded industrial town that sits on a busy highway linking Tehran with the north of the country.

The hanging of Atefeh Rajabi has shocked the residents of Neka, who still differ widely in their assessment of the girl, but none voices support for the punishment that she has received. An air of tension and eerie silence hangs over the town’s smoke-filled tea-houses, or chaikhanehs, where men spend hours chatting quietly in clusters of three or four over tea. In a summer month like August, business should be booming in this town as thousands of Tehran residents flock to the sandy beaches of the Caspian. But right now, the visitors are for the most part not holidaymakers.

“There are lots of strangers who come and we are used to them,” says Askar, a young shopkeeper who sells a variety of citrus fruit jams. “But right now, all of them are asking about the girl. They want to know who she was and how she died.”

The shock of Atefeh’s execution has gone far beyond this town. Even in a country that has the highest number of executions in the world and routinely executes minors, Iranians across the nation have been bewildered by accounts of the hanging of a 16-year-old girl. The fact that the religious judge himself put the rope around her neck and the letters of “congratulations” from the town’s governor to the judge, commending him for his “firm approach” have only added to the torment and pain many say they have felt.

“Atefeh was not a well-behaved girl, that’s for sure. But do you hang a girl for having sex with an unmarried man?” asked Fariba, a girl in Atefeh’s neighborhood, who like many others did not want to be identified.

According to judicial records, by the time Atefeh was 16, she had been convicted five times of having sex with unmarried men. Each time she spent some time in jail and was given 100 lashes (Under Iran’s law, punishment for having sex with a married man would have been far heavier.)

Atefeh’s father is an unemployed drug addict whose whereabouts are not known. Her mother died when Atefeh was still a child and she was left in the care of her octogenarian grandparents, which meant no care at all.

“She was abused by a close relative,” says Mina, one of the few girls in Neka who identify themselves as Atefeh’s friends. “But she never dared even to talk about it to anyone. Tell your teachers? They’ll call you a whore. Tell the police? They lock you up and rape you. Better keep your mouth shut.”

Mina sobs as she recalls her friend’s tormented life, but many of these horrendous experiences are everyday facts of life for girls being brought up under a rigid theocratic regime that has institutionalized misogyny in its laws and practices.

“She sometimes talked about what these ‘Islamic moral policemen’ did to her while she was in jail. She still had nightmares about that. She said Behshahr Prison was the Hell itself.”

Alijan, a local grocer with graying hair, said many parents did not want Atefeh to socialize with their kids, because they thought she would have a corrupting influence on other young girls.

“Who can blame them?” he said, with a deep sigh. “In this country, if you’re a man and you go to jail, you can forget about having a future. Now imagine if a girl goes to jail. She was hopeless.”

“I knew this girl very well and she did not deserve what they did to her,” explains a middle-aged woman who once taught Atefeh in the local girls’ school. “She was lively, intelligent, and, of course, rebellious. She wouldn’t take injustice from anyone. But the authorities here equate these qualities in a girl to prostitution and evil. They wanted to give all the girls and women a lesson.”

Hamid was one of those fathers in the neighborhood who did not want her two daughters to befriend Atefeh, but with hindsight, he feels the guilt of not having done anything to help the girl.

“I think the most devastating event in her life was the death of her mother,” Hamid said. “Before that, she was a normal girl. Her mother was everything to her. When she died, she had no one to look after her.”

A pharmacist, whose shop is not far away from the Railway Square, where Atefeh was hanged, recalls her final, painful hour. “When agents of the State Security Forces brought her to the gallows, I felt cold sweat running down my back. She looked so young and innocent, standing there in the middle of all these bearded men in military fatigues. Judge Reza’i must have felt a personal grudge against her. He put the rope around her neck and left her dangling on the gallows for 45 minutes. I looked around and everyone in the crowd was sobbing and damning the mullahs for doing this to our young people.”

Atefeh had no access to a lawyer at any stage and her death sentence was upheld by a Supreme Court that is dominated by fundamentalist mullahs. Haji Rezaii, the religious judge, was reportedly so incensed with Atefeh’s “sharp tongue” during the trial that he travelled to Tehran to convince the mullahs of the Supreme Court to uphold the death sentence.

The tragically short life of Atefeh Rajabi its brutal end are a reminder of the plight of millions of girls in a country where, according to state-owned newspapers, 75 percent of the population live below the poverty line, 66 percent of women are victims of some form of domestic violence, and over 70 percent of women suffer from varying degrees of depression. Iran remains, in the words of UN Human Rights Rapporteur Maurice Copithorne, “a prison for women.”

October 25, 2007. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Atrocity, Iran, Islam, misogyny, murder, Sharia, Terrorism, women.

6 Comments

  1. curtismchale replied:

    Heartbreaking story. Oppression of minorities and the weak, as women obviously are in that area, always makes me mad.

  2. sexywhispers replied:

    I love you for writing this.

  3. Dee Dawning replied:

    Unfortunately stuff like this happens more than it should in that crazy convoluted part of the world.

  4. Shaheen Khan replied:

    Have you actually visited that “crazy convoluted part of the world”? Most of the foreigners I’ve met in Iran are of the opinion that the condition of women are far better than they imagined sitting back home.One Japanese guy told my dad that he was amazed at the number of women cab drivers in Iran. They also told me, and people I know that they’ve seldom met a nation with such love of books- that they find bookshops in every corner. Maybe you should plan a trip to Iran? Iran has very little terrorism, like Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and practically every country in the Middle East, it is very safe to visit. Infact, the only turbulent nation in the M.E. today- Iraq, was pretty safe and secular too before Bush made a mess of things there.

    65% of Iranian University students are women.Much of the things which appear on this blog- executions for pre marital sex, adultery all happen to both men and women. I think I’ve written this before so its like repeating myself, but I want to give this particular example. In 1985, alarmed by the rapid population increase- both Iran and China started family planning programmes. Iran started out with a birthrate of a whopping 6.6 children per woman,China with 2.9 children per woman. Iran allowed a maximum of 3 kids per couple, China had a one child policy. Today, Iran is down to 1.71, China to 1.75. However, unlike China, Iran has no skewed sex ratio.Look at the sex ratios at birth in some nations with sub replacement birthrates:
    1) China 111 boys per 100 girls
    2) South Korea 113 boys per 100 girls
    3) Georgia 115 boys per 100 girls
    4) Armenia 115 boys per 100 girls
    SOURCE: Wikipedia
    All these are non Muslim nations.South Korea and China are Confucian, Georgia and Armenia are Christian.In contrast, Iran has no skewed ratio. Had conditions been so bad either Iran couldn’t reduce its birthrate at the fastest rate in the world (yes, it is the fastest)or it would have sex selective abortions.

    Women in Iran are of course not the same as women in say Scandinavia or even women in Muslim Kazakhstan and Turkey, yet things aren’t as bleak as portrayed.In Iran, some magazines would have me believe that all Western women are sex toys, all suffer from eating disorders, there’s an AIDS epidemic raging in U.S.A. etc. One shouldn’t believe everything one reads.
    A cordial invitation to Iran. 🙂

  5. Dee Dawning replied:

    Hi Shaheen, I thought you didn’t live there anymore?

    I just read an interesting article on Iran about how at one time Iran respected the U.S. and was looking to the U.S. to be an bulwark against the colonial tendencies of England and Russia. Instead England got Eisenhower, to stage the coup, obliterating the budding Iranian democracy, inserting Shah Reza as king and creating Iranian undying enmity toward us.

    Apparently Iran was fairly secular then and when the Shah took over it drove dissidents into the safety of the mosques, helping to radicalize them.

    Once more U.S. foreign policy is on the wrong end of the law of unintended consequences.

    I have a question for you. How did Benidar Bhutto, a woman ever get to be Prime Minister in Pakistan.

  6. Shaheen Khan replied:

    I don’t “live” in Iran but my parents ensure that I spend a month every year there at least.Its been just 3 years since I’ve left Iran, so I know what goes on. Sometimes I spend two months in my summer vacations in Tehran. My parents also ask me to bring as many (Western, White) friends along as possible from school, so we’ve shown Iran to many people, somewhere around 20. My parents are nominally Muslim, and didn’t mind when I told them that I’m an atheist now. However, they are very patriotic and I think they’d be very disappointed if I start hating Iran. I’m thinking that I should formally convert to some other faith to formally leave Islam, and I’m very interested in Buddhism. My parents suggested our country’s older, state faith- Zoroastrianism, as its “born out of Iranian culture” 🙂

    In any case, my parents’ families and childhood friends continue to reside there, and I learn a lot from them too.My mother’s cousin recently visited us and she was speaking of a stoning where a 50 year old man was stoned for adultery in her town back in Iran. Shocking, but this was done to a man, so its not neccessary that women are always the victim of fundamentalism.

    Yes, Iran was pretty secular in my mum’s childhood days, her sister was Miss Tehran, and I have pics of my mom and her sister in bikinis in Tehran.

    Infact, Iraq ( Iran’s erstwhile enemy, now many Iranian’s are very sympathetic to it, as they feel its America’s victim) too was pretty secular before the war. Saddam, while undoubtedly a tyrant, wasn’t a religious bigot, he was more like a fascist dictator like Hitler and Stalin. Shias and Sunnis regularly blow themselves up in Iraq trying to kill each other, this was unthinkable in Saddam’s time.Its highly unlikely Saddam would support Al Queda,he wasn’t an Ayatollah cum ruler, fascist dictators don’t like Mullahs seizing power.No WMD’s were found in Iraq so the war was based on a lie too, and Bush says that God told him to attack Iraq.In the countries where U.K. and U.S.A. haven’t interfered, like Senegal, Mali, or Indonesia, apostasy isn’t a crime nor is there an all pervasive hatred of the West. The Muslim world, like anywhere else, needs to be left alone to do its own thing, make its own mistakes and exercise sovereignty.

    Benazir Bhutto isn’t the world’s only Muslim Prime Minister. In Bangladesh now, both the PM and the Head of Opposition are women. Indonesia-Megawati Sukarnoputri and Turkey’s Tonsu Cecil were women Heads of State as well.U.S.A. still hasn’t had a woman President.Actually, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have strong Indian Hindu Buddhist legacies, while Turkey was of course the Eastern Roman Empire’s seat, so it maybe due to pre Islamic influences.Mohammed is reported to have said that a nation with a female ruler will never prosper, yet these countries have disregarded that. All people regardless of religion, have a tremendous capacity of imagining, interpreting or downright ignoring bits and pieces of their religious scripture, and only Muslims can’t lack this ability altogether.

    Guys like Robert Spencer and Mark Steyn will have everyone believe that Muslims are reproducing like sewer rats, and killing infidels left, right and centre while reality is of course somewhat more varied. As I said before, they’re like the Iranian and other Muslims who believe that Bush and other evangelicals are out to destroy the Islamic faith, and Jews control the world.Its best to take whatever these people say with a pinch of salt

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