Iranians have recently been shocked by the news of two “honour killings” of women, including one believed to have been killed for her faith in Christ. Iranian Christian Omeed Jouyandé* explains how Iran’s laws reinforce the discrimination that can underly these crimes, and how SAT-7 PARS offers an alternative in the Christian message of freedom.
If ever a term might be described as contradictory it has to be “honour killing.” Where is the honour in killing another human being, much less a member of your own family?
20-year-old Iman Sami was murdered, it is suspected, by her brother and uncle for turning to Christ. She is one among thousands slaughtered for the sake of family “honour.” Most victims of honour killings are women, and these murders can often go unreported.
The appalling case of Ghazal Heydari, recently beheaded by her husband and brother-in-law in southern Iran, has received much attention due to the brutality of the crime. People were shaken by pictures and videos of a young man smiling and parading his wife’s head in the southwestern city of Ahwaz.
Ghazal Heydari was a 12-year-old child when she was married to her husband. At age 17, she escaped to Turkey because of the domestic violence to which she had been subjected. She was convinced by her father to return to Iran, where in February 2022 her life was brutally taken by her husband and brother-in-law.
The response of the authorities in Iran to this honour killing has been to shut down the Rokna news agency, which originally broadcasted the news of the crime. They have also said that they will pursue the people who took and broadcasted videos of Mr. Heydari walking around with his wife’s head.
The attitude of the authorities can be understood in the light of the much broader discrimination against women in Iranian law. Honour killings are an extreme application of this law, which has a much broader impact on the day-to-day lives of women.
Sally Momtazi, a presenter of the Insiders program on SAT-7 PARS, which is watched by both women and men in Iran, cites one example: “Article 1108 [of Iran’s civil law] confirms that if a woman withholds her duties towards her husband she does not qualify to receive financial support, and she has to be sexually obedient to her husband, and in the absence of reasons compliant with sharia law she cannot prevent her husband’s advances.”
Co-presenter Hengameh Borji comments, “These laws actually harm marriage, which should involve two people going forward positively in their lives, working and thinking creatively alongside each other. That is how it should be, but sadly problems are created when all the responsibilities and privileges are given to one party alone, while the other party is denied a say in making decisions.”
These laws and the extent to which they are enforced impact Iranian women in surprising ways. For example, it is quite well known that a woman may not leave home and enter public spaces without the right kind of clothing. What may be less well known is that women are prohibited even from cycling or riding motorbikes.
Hengameh explains, “Riding a bicycle is considered so mundane around the world, and yet in Iran it has become an activity-filled with tension and challenge, to the extent that women riding bicycles or motorbikes are subject to criminal proceedings.”
And yet there is evidence that at the grassroots attitudes are changing. Despite the recent rise in honour killings there is a large-scale turning away from the kind of beliefs that fuel these crimes, and Iranians in growing numbers are adopting a different view of the place and role of women in society.
Parsa**, a male viewer from Iran, writes, “In my opinion, women must have the benefit of equal rights in society – I would by no means prevent my sister or wife from riding a bike. And we must not forget the standing of each person in creation if we believe in a God who had created us with a plan.”
“Under Iran’s law the life of a female human being is worth half that of a male human being,” writes Touraj**, a Christian viewer from Iran. “While these injustices and inhumane laws exist, no one will have equal human rights, whether boy or girl, man or woman, old or young. Injustice must be completely uprooted – merely cutting the branches will not change the nature or the bitter fruit of the tree.”
The Insiders program promotes the empowerment of women by providing a platform for the discussion of topics like these, which are widely treated as taboo in Persian culture. Recently it has focused on human rights, showing viewers how the New Testament testifies to the freedom in Christ given to people made in God’s image and loved by Him: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV).
More than 400 Iranian women are victims of honour killings each year, usually at the hands of close family members. The Lancet medical journal reported in October 2020 that at least 8,000 such killings had been reported in Iran between 2010 and 2014. According to Dr. Rezvan Moghadam, founder of the Iranian organization Stop Honour Killings, the number of victims is greater than reported, as in some cases women were driven to suicide or the cause of death was reported not as murder but as illness.
* Omeed Jouyandé is the author of this blog
** Names changed for security reasons
- For the immediate family members of the recent victims of honour killings – for God to comfort them in their overwhelming grief, and rescue them from the trap of resentment
- That societal attitudes in Iran would continue to change towards honour killings leading to substantial changes to Iranian law that would protect women and grant equal status and rights