Wednesday June 19, 2013
We Must Never Forget Atefeh of Iran: 'the Gypsy of Neka'Theresa Griffin Kennedy Salem-News;com
The stories of human rights abuses against women and girls of the middle east are circulated through you-tube, face-book and other Internet blogging sites.
(PORTLAND, OR) - As Americans, many of us regard middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran with a mixture of reluctant fascination and fearful repugnance. We've all heard the horror stories of human rights abuses for both genders, including executions of blameless minor children and teens. Many of these executions for ludicrous, trumped up “crimes against chastity” that have no basis in logical reality as something an underage youth could ever control, influence or prevent.
There are the endless stories of how women are treated not only as second class citizens but how they are treated with even less consideration for their health and well being than common animal livestock. There are the so called Honor killings, which defy any understanding of what constitutes concepts of true honor, at least in ours and other advanced cultures. These calculated murders number well over 5,000 per year all throughout the middle east and do not appear to be diminishing in number.
The women of these countries are murdered, raped and tortured without restraint by the men of their culture and habitually denied any manner of social justice following such animalistic, barbaric treatment. Their stories do much to add to an overall perception by Americans and others that countries like Iran, for example, are unenlightened backward areas of the globe that harbor centuries old indoctrinated hatred of women and girls, simply because they are smaller, physically weaker and more powerless.
The stories of human rights abuses against women and girls of the middle east are circulated through you-tube, face-book and other Internet blogging sites. The regular flow of information regarding these crimes against humanity or as others call them, “Femicide” (the ritualized killing off of the female gender) do much to support wide spread awareness that Iran overall has an impossibly corrupt judicial system that is run by and for men, to the clear oppression, human misery and destruction of the women of their culture, who seem to be of so little value to them. Clearly not all the men of Iran abuse women in these ways but a large number continue to do so.
The vast majority of the common people of Iran, including men, are unhappy with the way the government controls its citizens, preventing them from living a more content and less repressed existence. As current research indicates, its mainly the younger men, who are not happy with the way their government operates. These young men, with the help of their women friends, create and maintain blogging sites, where they share stories, videos, poetry and other forms of writing. They do this in an effort to continue to voice their objection to Iran's oppressive and fascist government policies that make natural personal freedoms a crime punishable by death.
When the mixing of the sexes, a traditionally accepted and natural phenomenon in nearly all civilized cultures, is considered inherently evil in Iranian religious circles and is forbidden, and this natural human process made illegal, it makes sense that most younger Iranians are going to view their country with melancholy disdain as both repressed and backward.
As a result of these truths, is it logical to presume that the people of Iran are content with the way their country operates, with respect to their judicial system currently in power? And is this a power structure that concerns itself with the human rights of the most vulnerable of their society or is it a power structure whose only valued precept is that the strongest bully wins? With the most forceful aggressor declared the winner?
One tragic story of human rights abuse in Iran is the story of Atefeh. The story involves the illegal, midnight execution in 2004, of a 16-year-old girl named Atefeh Sahaaleh. She was called “the Gypsy of Neka” due to her social isolation and her daily habit of wandering the rural town where she lived. Atefeh was born in 1988 to a loving mother and father, overjoyed at her arrival into the world. Unfortunately, her mother was killed when Atefeh was five-years-old in a car accident.
It is said that a younger brother drowned in a river shortly after her mother's death due to a lack of parental supervision. After the accident, and the brother's death, her father, Safer Ali Sahaaleh, who had been very much in love with his wife, fell into drug addiction and despair. Due to his grief and inability to cope with the dual losses of his wife and son, Safer struggled for years with drug addiction, while also attempting to maintain as a parent and raise Atefeh in a safe supportive home. Atefeh's father, Safer, lost money and property due to the drug addiction, which he could not receive any manner of help to overcome, nor any help for his depression either. They moved from a fine home, to a rundown dwelling in a poor section of Neka, Iran.
Help for drug addiction is not something the Iranian government considers important and does not generally fund. It is considered a character defect to become addicted to drugs. This attitude is typical in Iran, where long time drug addicts are routinely executed, rather than rehabilitated, with Iran being second only to Japan worldwide for numbers of executions committed each year.
Atefeh grew up in the small town of Neka Iran, near the Caspian sea. The home was a dilapidated building, difficult to heat in winter, rather resembling a small factory and typical of the common residential dwellings of the region as opposed to an actual house in the American sense. Atefeh's father was either working, looking for work or lost periodically in a world of hazy drug addiction and gone for days at a time.
In the home, lived Ateheh's elderly octogenarian grandparents whom she cared for. Despite doing nearly everything for them, they ignored her, due in part to the fact that they were also very hard of hearing, virtually deaf and nearly crippled with arthritis. For many years, her father struggled with various employment but was able however, despite his inner demons, to support his parents and his only remaining child. Atefeh learned early that it was up to her to help her father with domestic responsibilities.
She had to do housework, she had to cook for her grandparents and even bathe them. Atefeh struggled with these obligations, while attending school and pursuing an education. She was described as “lively and intelligent.” She was well known in the small town where she lived, and became known as “the Gypsy of Neka” by the locals, mainly because of her habit of shopping in the town alone and wandering by herself, which included skipping and loitering near the train tracks. She was unrestrained in her behavior and lacked stability or any form of consistent parental supervision. Perhaps that is the reason, along with her families lack of resources or influence that she became such an easy target.
It has been reported since her death, that Atefeh did indeed suffer from depression and other psychological illnesses, after being examined by a psychologist while in custody during one of her arrests for “crimes against chastity.” Her depression and mental fragility were due, more than likely, to the constant social isolation she experienced and the painful lack of support or interested extended family willing to help out. She admitted that “hours” would go by and she had no recollection of what had happened. She would black out and lose track of time and it frightened her, as she told the therapist who examined her.
Shortly after her first arrest, at age 13, Atefeh was approached by a 51-year-old man, while driving in his car one afternoon. A former Revolutionary guard, turned taxi driver, Ali Darabi was married, with several children of his own. It was later discovered she had been coerced into a sexual relationship with him which according to Atefeh, involved forcible rape on several occasions. These attacks left her bed ridden due to the pain, which probably included vaginal tearing. This relationship allegedly lasted over two years with the man enticing her by giving her clothing, food and candy. The association would later become her downfall, with Darabi, (who was even older than her own father) becoming the catalyst to her eventual ruin.
Despite Atefeh's social isolation, her father, Safer, doted on her and loved her very much. Because of her dedication, in the way she cared for his parents, Safer always brought her the latest jeans that might be fashionable or video game or other trinket she might have wanted. After her death, Safer was interviewed and while speaking in Farsi, he said, “I gave her whatever she wanted. She was my life, she was my heart. They killed my child!”]
Atefeh was arrested twice more, following her first arrest at the age of 13, by the “morality police.” Each time she was convicted of having sex with unmarried men, though its highly unlikely she had sex with anyone other than Ali Darabi. She was punished on each occasion by receiving 100 lashes across her back, delivered with a long leather strap. The common result of this type of punishment can be deep lacerations that bleed and large areas of deep bruising that often take weeks and sometimes even months to completely heal. Had she been a married woman having sex with a married man, the sentence according to Sharia Law would have been stoning resulting in death.
But it was when she was arrested for a 4th time that her fate was truly sealed. She had finally stopped agreeing to go with Ali Darabi in his car, (which had been a shameful secret to her that even her family didn't know about) and she had made a new friend. A young man from the neighborhood, known only as Hussein. Its likely that Darabi was the one who turned her into the Morality Police, in an effort to have his revenge, when she no longer agreed to meet him, in favor of her much younger and much kinder friend. Hussein was a man in his early 20's and was very kind to Atefeh. He cut her hair for her, which apparently needed cutting and bought her attractive pants suits, common attire for Persian women. Hussein was becoming a suitor but there was no indication that she was ever sexually intimate with him. He had invited her to a wedding party some weeks before her final arrest and would have made her very happy, probably asking for her hand in marriage, had they been allowed to develop a more serious relationship.
Hussein was always compassionate to Atefeh and even visited her several times while she was in prison, during her previous arrests. It seemed Hussein knew she was a good person and did not worry about what other people thought of his involvement with her. This new association with Hussein soon came to the attention of the Morality Police and it's suspected that two of these “Morality Policemen” forged a document with “43 signatures from the towns people” claiming Atefeh was, according to one local mother, “A terrible influence on young girls in the town.” This document was almost surely a forgery.
On the day of the wedding party that Atefeh had been invited to by Hussein, she was arrested as she prepared an afternoon meal for her grandparents while her father was hard at work in a brick factory. She had been preparing onions and rice and had asked her grandfather to walk a short distance to the local area market to purchase some tomatoes.
While the onions were being sautéed on the stove top and the basmati rice boiling, the Morality Police burst in the home. They went into the kitchen and swiftly took Atefeh away, just as her grandfather returned home with the bundle of tomatoes on his arm. They did not explain anything to the grandfather, nor did they turn off the stove top. The elderly grandfather who had limited mobility in his hands, due to arthritis, had to go and ask a neighbor to turn off the stove for him.
Atefeh never saw her adoring yet melancholy father again. She was taken into the town and while in custody repeatedly raped by several prison guards, who later confessed to her rape. None were ever charged with a crime. Rape is a common fate for most young incarcerated Persian women, wrongfully accused and most of them generally still virgins.
After some weeks in custody Atefeh was given a trial and while at trial and being questioned by the judge, Haji Rezai, (a notoriously punitive hard-liner from the days of the revolution in 1979) she became upset, fearing she was losing the case.
She tore off her Hijab and sobbed openly declaring that it was Ali Darabi who “deserved to be punished” and not her! At one point, she became so enraged she removed her shoes and threw them at the judge, hitting him with one of them. Judge Rezai later claimed in a written report that she had “undressed in court” an obvious and gross exaggeration. He was later quoted as saying that he had condemned her to death because of “her sharp tongue.” In her fear and desperation to defend herself, she had a “sharp tongue” and apparently, in Neka Iran, a “sharp tongue” is worthy of a death sentence for an underage child fighting for their life.
Judge Haji Rezai had another motive for sanctioning her murder. She and Atefeh's family have disclosed to Iranian media that they had been notified that he himself wanted Atefeh as a “temporary wife.” Temporary wives are just state sanctioned prostitutes in Iran and many people disapprove of the tradition as a man can abandon his “temporary wife” at any time, even if she has a child with him. Judge Rezai was a man easily in his late fifties or early sixties and Atefeh and her family refused. His revenge for being rejected was to have her executed, this according to sources close to the family.
Her court appointed lawyer, who had a reputed heart condition, left halfway through the proceedings and did not advocate for her in any manner. He must have known she was done for and just wanted to get home to his creature comforts. He was not going to waste any valuable time on a doomed Persian girl. Sometime later, in the early morning, of August 15th 2004, Atefeh Sahaaleh was taken outside the prison to a crudely constructed gallows where she was hanged by the neck in front of a large crowd. Her body was left swinging for over 45 minutes. Many people, mainly men, treated the occasion as a bit of fun, some harmless sport and took photos and videos of her body with their camera phones as it swung back and forth from the crane. Later, the issue of Atefeh's age became a very serious matter, and cause for national embarrassment, (if national embarrassment is even possible in countries like these) for it was well known in the community and in the courts, that Atefeh Sahaaleh was only 16-years-old. The beginnings of a cover up soon ensued.
In most regions of Iran, it is illegal to execute a person under the age of 18. The presiding Judge, Haji Rezai claimed on the court documents that Atefeh was 22-years-old and that according to Sharia code, for crimes against chastity, she could be sentenced to death for having “adulterous” relations with a married man. When Atefeh's father Safer provided the court with an original birth certificate, proving her 1988 birth year, Judge Rezai dismissed it, looking over at Atefeh and deciding that because of her “developed physique” she was 22...because he said so.
Though she was not at any time married herself and could not therefore be found guilty of “adultery” those were the charges officially drawn up in the court document. It has been determined that Judge Rezai knew her actual age and either forged or had the document forged to state that she was 22 instead of 16. This tampering of court documents would be a felonious crime and worthy of immediate termination and punitive action in most civilized countries like America and elsewhere, but apparently not in Iran.
If, as an American, you are scratching your head, wondering how a 13-year-old child could consent to full sexual relations with a man of 51, it is because in Iran, a girl, not yet an adult, is thought to be mature enough to give her sexual consent at the age of nine-years-old. When a female child is not yet menstruating and cannot become pregnant, and can in no way demonstrate that she is even capable of being a “woman” she can consent to sexual relations with a grown adult man. In Iran.
Another reality in Iran and other middle eastern countries is the wide spread Arab-Islamic belief that supports the demonization of women as inherently evil. The subsequent dehumanization that occurs on a daily basis and is the reason why Honor Killings take place is the end result of this widespread demonization of women in the middle east.
According to the Islamic Republic of Iran's interpretation of Sharia law, the least powerful in their culture, a woman, is automatically the seductress in any sexual encounter between unmarried persons. The woman would in essence be the one with the most power, according to this idea. The theory continues that no matter how young and innocent the girl is, she is the aggressor and no matter how old, promiscuous or depraved the man is, he is considered to be a "victim.” These woman hating concepts defy logic, or rational understanding and are clearly ludicrous.
At no time during the court proceeding, was the conduct of 51-year-old Ali Darabi, a middle aged husband and father taken into account with regard to his sexual exploitation and seduction of a troubled and isolated 13-year-old child that he preyed on for over two years. The only punitive action taken against the Pedophile, Ali Darabi, after Atefeh's execution was that he was given 75 lashes across his back (and not even the usual one hundred that Atefeh had received) for his sexual abuse of an underage child.
When Atefeh was executed she didn't know she was going to die until the very moment the noose was placed around her neck. Perhaps this can be considered a blessing. The pain of anticipation did not torture her young mind and so death may have come more quickly and with considerably less fear or terror. It was however, Judge Hadji Rezai who placed the rope around her neck, saying as he did so, “This will teach you to disobey!” It was reported that he was so incensed with Atefeh's “sharp tongue” during the trial, that he traveled to Tehran to convince the Mullahs of the Supreme Court to uphold the death sentence.
Atefeh's father was not informed of her death by any government officials and probably didn't believe the execution would be the result of her 4th and final arrest. He learned of his daughters death when his sister called him on the telephone in tears and informed him that the Iranian government had murdered his only remaining child.
At her final court hearing, shorting before her execution, it is noted that the only family member present was Atefeh's elderly grandfather. Perhaps that was of some comfort to her, to know that her grandfather cared for her in his own way and was concerned enough to be present. Perhaps this soothed Atefeh's heart on her last day alive, to know that her grandfather cared for her enough to be there. It seems plausible. Sources have indicted that her grandfather, though very elderly and quiet, did seem very distressed by his granddaughter's incarceration and was in regular contact with the courts, visiting her several times.
Later, when news of this illegal killing began to spread around the globe, via the Internet, not even 48 hours after her execution, Atefeh's body disappeared from the grave-site where it had been interred. Her remains are still unaccounted for.
It has been learned through Iranian media, since the illegal 2004 execution of Atefeh Sahaaleh that Judge Rezai, along with several militia members, including captain Zabihi and Captain Molai were arrested and detained for a short period of time by the Intelligence Ministry and that they had all sexually abused Atefeh in the weeks prior to her execution by raping her repeatedly.
Perhaps most despicable is that in addition to his confession of his rape of Atefeh, Judge Razai who served as Judge, Jury and Executioner, also confessed to torturing her during interrogations in order to get her to confess and give up the names of other men she would have had sexual relations with. He also confessed to trying to cover up what he and his cronies had done to Atefeh by speeding up the normal process of court proceedings and hastening the verdict of execution.
No official charges have been filed against “Judge” Rezai after his release. He continues to work as a notorious Iranian “killing” judge, condemning innocent Persians to death and ignoring any manner of accepted judicial practice. His corruption as a puppet “judge” with absolutely no scruples or moral integrity and as a human being are blatant, reprehensible and hideously tragic.
It is stories like this one, the story of an illegally executed girl, a troubled and lonely child, who had already suffered so much, only to end up horribly violated and ultimately murdered by calculating misogynists, that does much to warp the way the average American will think of the “People” of Iran.
The reality is that Iran is filled with millions of young and old alike who want political and social change in their nation. They want additional freedoms, that make sense and are logical to any enlightened human being. They want justice and equal rights for homosexuals who continue to be executed, including minors simply because of their sexual preference.
They want the sanctioned murder and rape of the women and girls of Iran to stop. Sadly, it will be a difficult and dangerous climb as they strive for political and cultural change. The people of America and most particularly American politicians need to understand that its going to take considerable time and space for Iran to catch up with the rest of the civilized world. It will not happen overnight, and will probably take many more decades.
Iran is a beautiful country and an ancient culture, with over 2,500 years or recorded history. For centuries Iran has been a world leader in art, literature, architecture and the sciences. It is a country that will have many struggles ahead for the voices of its people to be heard, however its only a matter of time before political change comes to Iran. It will happen.
We must however, not confuse the voice of the people, with the voice of those who exist within the vertical distribution of political and military power. The laughably corrupt government officials and radical Mullahs who control so much of what happens concerning punishment and the law and how that effects the common man or woman are the true culprits and perpetrators of social injustice, not the common people of Iran. As Americans, we can do our part by not being deceived into thinking that Iran is part of “the Axis of evil” as George W. Bush so infamously claimed in 2002, much to the understandable offense of Persian people everywhere.
We can do our part to help those Persian exiles who come to America to feel welcome in a land, which, while supporting human and equal rights for both genders, is also burdened with its very own unique social and economic issues.
We can remember and honor the Atefeh's of the world in both Iran and our own country. Those innocent “nobody” people, who through no fault of their own, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and are now gone forever.
* Despite being arrested after Atefeh Sahaaleh was wrongfully and illegally executed, and despite his confession to having repeatedly raped her and tortured her while in custody, Judge Haji Razai was not charged with any crimes and was later released. He was eventually promoted with higher pay and even more power to destroy the lives of innocent human beings in Iran, through the travesty that is called the current Iranian “judicial system.”
* The two “Morality Policemen” who forged the document claiming the townspeople of Neka wanted Atefeh arrested and removed from the town environs, were also arrested soon after Atefeh's execution for running a child prostitution ring in Neka, Iran with many children under the age of 10.
* The whereabouts of Atefeh's corpse, stolen from her grave-site less than 48 hours after her illegal midnight execution in Neka Iran remains unknown.
By Theresa Griffin Kennedy
Theresa Griffin Kennedy is a writer and social activist, completing a masters degree at Portland State University in Adult Education. Her goal upon completing the degree will be to teach incarcerated offenders creative writing. With a focus on the middle east and human rights, Ms Kennedy has written articles on the human rights of women in the middle east, the homeless and the mentally ill. Poetry and the art of the personal essay are also strong focal points and continue to be explored in her writing. Ms Kennedy continues to write, submit her writing and be published.
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