Investigating Two Victims of Violence in Iran
Around the same exact time people had lined up the street, video cameras in hand, and were recording the hanging of Atena Aslani’s murderer (the innocent little Parsabadi girl), Setareh Qoreishi’s family, who had experienced something very similar when their daughter was killed 18 months earlier, were becoming ever more determined in their decision to hang their daughter’s killer, Amir Hossein, who had not turned 18 years old yet.
Much like Atena’s family, they were seeking the harshest punishment, something to alleviate their pain… But everybody hated Amir Hossein. Perhaps, they would even tear down his house like they had done with Atena’s killer’s house, if given the opportunity. Amir Hossein’s parents, broken and ostracized by their community, lived five streets down, in the town of Varamin’s crowded Kheirabad neighborhood, and were waiting to be summoned for a last visitation with their only son.
In the days leading to the execution of Atena’s killer, and after the sentence was carried out, Amir Hossein’s parents were probably getting themselves ready for such a day as well. All those days when the father walked their narrow alley, alone and depressed, and no one would answer when he said hello, Amir Hossein’s picture was still sitting on top of their television set. Civil activists’ efforts to postpone Amir Hossein’s execution have been successful so far. The objective of these efforts is not to trample upon the rights of little Setayesh’s family or disregard the blood that has been spilled; the goal is to alleviate the pain that will never go away. This report is the story of one group’s efforts for peace.
The objective of these efforts is not to trample upon the rights of little Setayesh’s family or disregard the blood that has been spilled; the goal is to alleviate the pain that will never go away.
Monday, three days before the event
Amir Hossein is to be hanged on Thursday. Everybody has been restless since Monday. Several of the individuals are part of the same group that had gathered near the Afghanistan Embassy and had lit candles in the days after Setayesh had been murdered.
One of them says: “They made fun of us during those days, saying ‘Afghans do all these bad things here and you don’t light candles for any [of their victims]. And when the sentence is issued, you’re going after getting their forgiveness.’ They said our actions were contradictory, but none of them thought about the fact that we stood by Setayesh’s family and lit candles for this innocent little girl, so that we could later face her grieving mother and ask her to forgive Amir Hossein and prevent his blood from being spilled.” Civil activists have arranged a meeting with Dr. Noor, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Iran.
We talk to him in the Embassy’s main office in Tehran’s Shahrak-e Gharb region. He listens to us calmly and attentively. Men and women are sitting in a row in his office and are talking about their concerns, about the fact that in spite of all his mental shortcomings, Amir Hossein is still a child, about the fact that they have not forgotten Setayesh’s family, that forgiveness can have a significant effect on the two countries’ relations… Noor listens to all of that, then raises his head and speaks of his and his nation’s concerns, a nation whose daughter has been raped and murdered: “We are, of course, grateful that our brother country has led the way [in reaching out], be it at the governmental level, popular level, or through human rights activists.
Even government officials tried to appease and console us. We were appeased by the prosecutor in the case and some influential governmental, cultural, and social officials, including Seyyed Hassan Khomeini. We are thankful that they have prevented any negative publicity. Nevertheless, all this media hoopla has had some negative consequences. People in Afghanistan are awaiting the outcome of this case, to see what is going to happen to this unfortunate family who has been wronged and subjected to such calamity; this family is under pressure from all sides, including their own compatriots; even their relatives in Afghanistan are insisting on execution.
Furthermore, because a similar murder had occurred in Parsabad and a death sentence was carried out, this has added to the pressure, and the people of Afghanistan are waiting to see how the sentence is going to be implemented; if the sentence is not carried out, it will have negative implications even inside Iran. But all in all, we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the answer, even though it solves the problems at times. Generally speaking, there are those in Iran who are executed for engaging in drug trafficking, but the executions have no effect on the sale of drugs and does not reduce the drug business; most often, those who get caught by the law are the little people in a mafia-style conglomerate.
The effects of imprisonment are sometimes greater but one must keep in mind the fact that Setayesh’s family is also under pressure. We contacted them a few hours ago and touched on the subject [of forgiving the murderer] but realized that they were not ready for it. Perhaps if the rape issue had not been publicized, Afghanistan’s pride would not have been wounded as much.” He said in closing: “In any event, I prefer that Setayesh’s grieving family decide for themselves. It is their right to do so and we defend them and their right.”
Tuesday, two days before the event
Kheirabad only looks like a neighborhood; it is a place surrounded by vast tracts of barren land as far as the eye can see. Amir Hossein probably used to run and play in these tracts of land. As we walk by the first grocery store, everyone is saying that maybe this was where Setayesh bought the last ice cream of her life… The kids here live on streets that have no scenery whatsoever; there are only people and wasteland as far as the eye can see. The locals are mostly Afghans.
Women are standing in bread lines, wearing chadors covered in dirt and dust; the kids play on dirt fields, then they grow up, and [that’s it], they’re finished. Dirt is what they all have in common; it’s as if the dust settles in their beings and becomes one with them. They decided to move after the murder. Safieh, Setayesh’s mother, is pale-faced and thin. She is sitting in the room near the yard, her knees in her arms. She keeps saying: “You are here? Welcome… After 18 months… Welcome… I’ve been in pain for 18 months, thinking of my child’s cut-up body. And where were you [all this time]? Welcome, but don’t ask me to forgive. Setayesh has not been knocking on the door for 18 months… Our lives have been ruined for 18 months… Where have you been until today?”
There are no pictures of Setayesh in the house at all. They have put her pictures away to try and feel less pain. Her father is not home. We thought to ourselves maybe he didn’t want to be in a bind and have to give in when we ask him for forgiveness. Setayesh’s father had been a well digger. Never in the days where he was digging the ground to reach water, did he ever think that his next door neighbor would be Setayesh’s murderer.
But now he’s unemployed. The pain from a dislocated disk, and depression, has deprived him of the force and energy to climb down wells. Setayesh’s death destroyed him. The next victim is Setayesh’s older brother who dropped out of school and became the family’s breadwinner after her death… Then there is the older sister who, because of her mother’s high sugar levels, has become the homemaker.
Only the family’s smallest girl goes to school, and it seems as if even she doesn’t want to. That is how easily violence paralyses a simple, ordinary family. A family becomes a victim of violence that easily, from Safieh who still mourns the loss of Setayesh, to the family’s four-year-old son who takes medication to calm his nerves.
Safieh says: “He keeps knocking his head against the wall.” They are very sad… Safieh says: “Afghans told us they would kill us if we forgave. We didn’t have the money to pay for the difference in Diah. They said that we had to pay a hundred million Tumans to have him executed, because Setayesh was a girl. And we didn’t have the money, so we left it up to God… Even now, we haven’t paid any money to execute him, but since he committed rape, the government wants to execute him. But I won’t tell them to stop; did they wait for Atena’s murderer? [No, they didn’t.] I didn’t see my child’s body: there was nothing left to see…” And she repeats: “Were have you been for 18 months?”
These past few months, Safieh and her family have been following what has been going on with Atena’s family, the services they received, and they’re thinking that because they were Afghans, nobody thought to send them a counselor, find them jobs, and change their house. All they get is that, because they are Afghans, they should even be thankful that the killer is going to be executed. They will not get anything more than that…
Amir Hossein’s House
His father is a retired employee of the Defense Industries. He was born in 1966… The hair around his temples is gray… His mother can’t stand up straight; she walks in a stooping posture… Their house is ready for mourning; they have put the furniture in a line next to each other… Their son will be executed in two days. The elder daughter, the mother, and the mother-in-law are sitting in the kitchen. The construction material has not been touched. After his retirement, after he got his retirement bonus and married three daughters off, he decided to fix the upper level up so that the house would be clean when Amir Hossein got married in six or seven years. The walls of the upstairs floor, where Setayesh was murdered, are pink.
The building is half finished; as we walk up the stairs, we hit a cement bag… Everything is unfinished; the house that was supposed to be Amir Hossein’s home is now a murder scene. All this time, Amir Hossein’s family hasn’t even knocked on Setayesh’s door, and her family is angry. Amir Hossein’s father hits himself on the head, and, tears rolling down his cheeks, he says: “I swear to God I was ashamed… What was I going to say, please forgive? How could I even look in their faces? I swear to God I couldn’t, it wasn’t possible… I said it everywhere I went: ‘Do to him whatever he deserves’… But he’s my son… he’s a kid… he’s still a kid.”
The mother feels utterly helpless; she’s calm and restless at the same time. She saw Amir Hossein today. We ask her whether the visitation was in cabin or in person. She responds: “In cabin. They had already flogged him. We went to see him, his eyes were restless…I hope they let his pain to subside a little before they kill him…” Amir Hossein’s picture is still sitting on top of the TV set; it’s one of those pilgrimage pictures that they must have taken in Mashhad three of four years earlier. Amir Hossein is standing in the mausoleum, bathed in light, and thinking of the bright future ahead. His mother alludes to Amir Hossein’s seizures; he used to have seizures when he was a child but all these years, he hadn’t done anything to arouse any type of suspicion.
Amir Hossein and Behavioral Disorder
In talking to Sharq newspaper, Amir Hossein’s attorney, Mojtaba Farahbakhsh, provided some details about this case and talked about the efforts to postpone implementation of the sentence and talk to Setayesh Qoreishi’s family. He said: “We will do everything we can to appease Setayesh’s grieving family.”
We ask Farahbakhsh about Amir Hossein’s possible mental illness and he responds: “In law we have two types of mental illness. One is a mental disorder that is customarily called insanity [that is comprised of] psychological illnesses that destroy an individual’s psychological makeup and eliminate the individual’s criminal responsibility in the eyes of the law.
There are, however, certain less severe mental disorders, such as the one the Reform and Education Center expert has diagnosed Amir Hoosein with, which are called behavioral disorders. Behavioral disorders affect mostly pre-pubescent age children and if they are not treated in a timely fashion, the individual develops a sociopathic disorder.
As Amir Hossein’s background indicates, and the Center’s psychologist has testified, [he suffers from] a behavioral disorder.
As Amir Hossein’s background indicates, and the Center’s psychologist has testified, [he suffers from] a behavioral disorder. The symptoms of a behavioral disorder are lack of empathy for others; in other words, whereas a normal person would be disturbed by another’s suffering, a person afflicted with behavioral disorder is not.
You can deduce this personality disorder from Amir Hossein’s movements and behavior. As you know, he severely beat himself twice in prison and was also hospitalized in a mental facility for a while. He currently takes about 17 pills.”
When asked whether Amir Hossein felt remorse, Farahbakhsh said: “Amir Hossein is still a child; he says a lot of really strange things. Now, he’s excited that he has been transferred to Rajaishahr Prison, he thinks he’s a man now. He calls me excitedly and says ‘Mr. Farahbakhsh, they’ve taken me to Rajaishahr [Prison]’. And sometimes he calls and says he has seen Setayesh behind him; he still has these delusions. Amir Hossein had many issues in the environment in which he grew up; you cannot imagine how his being drunk [at the time of the murder] was so important in this affair.
Of course, I too, have heard the news of his execution having been postponed and we hope that this truly happens; and if the execution does not go on tomorrow, we have planned certain actions that we’re going to take so that we can obtain Setayesh’s family’s forgiveness and dispense with Qesas. In the meantime, we have plans for [fighting] the death sentence, and we intend to implement those plans through legal channels, if possible.”
It is us they executed, not Esmail…
When violence of this magnitude occurs, it becomes very hard for us to distinguish between different people [and determine who’s to blame and who isn’t]… That’s what happened when there was an attack on the home of Esmail, Atena’s (the little girl from Parsabad’s) murderer. Karim Jafarzafdeh is Esmail’s brother. He speaks softly and is still very sad… He keeps saying: “Ma’am, everybody’s forgotten everything already; I’m afraid if we start talking again, people will be reminded of what happened and won’t leave us alone again.” Then, as if he feels obligated to talk, he continues: “Esmail had three kids; a 13 year-old girl, an 18-year-old boy, and a 9-year-old boy… I moved them to another city so no one would know them.
But they don’t want to go to school anymore… We only recently signed them up even though it’s been a month since school opened; even then, they go some days and they don’t go on other days. His oldest son quit school all together… You know, what happened was that everybody thought of us the same way they thought of Esmail, and treated us in the same vein.
They said Esmail had 800 million Tumans; I wish they could come and see that he didn’t even have 80 thousand Tumans in his account…”
I ask him about the family’s mental state…He changes the subject again and says: “I’m a simple employee, and now we [live on] my income that I share with them…”
He pauses for a little while and continues: “My mother is a seyyed (descendant of the Prophet Mohammad through his daughter Fatemeh); my aunts (my mother’s sisters) and my grandfather know the Koran by heart. My aunts were and still are teachers of the Koran…That’s the kind of family we grew up in…”
I asked him what they did on the night of the execution. He says: “We gathered the family around in another town and read the Koran until after the execution so that his spirit would be in peace. We didn’t hold a wake for him so as not to offend anyone… But one day before the hanging, I hired an ambulance to take his body to be buried elsewhere …”
I asked him whether the family had seen the execution. He responds: “We tried not to let them see it, but they ended up seeing it anyway. You know, our family is very particular about certain things, and we feel duty bound… When people came to our home to say their condolences, they wouldn’t eat anything, saying they could not eat what belonged to orphans. I would swear to them that it was my own money and they would end up having a glass of water… These kids are at an age when their personality and their minds are taking shape, they can’t withstand all the [insults and the] wisecracks … You know, people bothered my mother a lot, this poor seyyed woman… She would say ‘Now that they’re going to hang him, I hope they don’t do it in public, at least that way we can keep our reputation and honor intact.’ They didn’t execute Esmail, it was us they executed.”
“In recent years, we have witnessed certain cases straying from the normal course of business… Public opinion and anger takes shape against the defendant.”
This is not the whole story
Now the execution has been postponed. The Tehran Province Judiciary came to the conclusion that the execution should be carried out after the [Islamic month] of Safar. Now Amir Hossein’s family has time to apologize, and those who had forgotten Setayesh and her family now have the opportunity to appease them; but the defendant’s rights must not be overlooked either.
In an interview with Sharq newspaper, Abdossamad Khorramshahi, attorney at law, stated: “In recent years, we have witnessed certain cases straying from the normal course of business. This is due to several reasons: One is that they have a lot of media coverage, and another is that public opinion and anger takes shape against the defendant.
And what is forgotten here is that we are not looking to get the defendant off without any punishment; all we’re saying is that we must refrain from going to one extreme or another.” He added: “This kind of adjudication, [quick trial and execution], has become widespread ever since the late Ruhollah Dadashi’s murderer was apprehended and was tried and executed very quickly and without the full extent of due process.
“This kind of adjudication, [quick trial and execution], has become widespread ever since the late Ruhollah Dadashi’s murderer was apprehended and was tried and executed very quickly and without the full extent of due process.”
Justice demands equal treatment of both sides. But the problem is that we label an individual a murderer since the get go, when he/she is still only accused of murder. We have instigated the public in recent cases, thereby creating enormous rage directed at the accused.
In Setayesh’s case, the anger and hatred that took shape against Amir Hossein was such that no one even thought to themselves ‘well this guy is a child too, and a victim of society’. It is true that our laws hold a 15-year-old child criminally responsible but Islamic Penal Code Article 91 expressly provides: “In crimes requiring Hadd or Qesas punishments, if the individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty cannot comprehend the nature of the crime or the prohibition thereof, or if there is doubt as to their mental development [and capacity] and maturity, they will be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter on a case by case basis.” This attorney at law added: “Regarding Amir Hossein, every time the authorities talked about him, it was to say something negative.
I wish we paid a little more attention to the provisions of the law. The Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure Article 4 emphasizes that a person is innocent until proven guilty, something that must apply to all defendants. But that did not happen in the Setayesh case. What we saw in that case was that public opinion was provoked against the defendant and everybody was thinking ‘what a hardened, professional criminal we’re dealing with’.
According to international law, Amir Hossein is still considered a child. It was through arousing collective feelings against him that a death sentence was handed down. And now our friends are trying to obtain [the next of kin’s] forgiveness. The question is, why should the course of events lead to where you hand down the harshest penalty to a child?”
They say Amir Hossein will be executed after the month of Safar. Aside from all of this, though, something has to be done about broken hearts. Did we ever send a mental health specialist to Parsabad in order to ascertain the people’s mental state after all the violence and the public hanging in that town? Did anybody think about what to do with Esmail’s castigated and stigmatized children? Have we looked to appease Setayesh’s family, who are guests in our country, to alleviate their pain? Do you even know how Amir Hossein’s father is doing? Are we willing to sit down and talk to him and hear him out, or are we only thinking about Amir Hosseins public hanging? You can add to this list Parsa’s murderer and family, Benita’s murderer and family, Ahura’s murderer and family, and all the other people who are caught up in the cycle of violence.