Iran: Gender apartheid and a culture of impunity enabled teen’s murder

Iran: Gender apartheid and a culture of impunity enabled teen’s murder - Civic Space

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ARTICLE 19 is shocked and saddened by the tragic murder of a 17-year old child in Iran for not conforming to traditional gender norms. We condemn the Islamic Republic’s propagation of hate towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the enabling framework of impunity for perpetrators of such reprehensible acts of crime, all of which result in gender apartheid in Iran. 

On 30 January 2024, local news outlet Rokna reported that the 17-year-old Iranian, which it identified as ‘Parsa’, had been murdered by their father over not conforming to rigid gender norms. For the purpose of this statement, since no reliable information is available about Parsa’s gender identity or sexual orientation, the they/them pronouns will be used.

In Iran, same-sex sexual acts are punishable by death and people not conforming to cisgender and heteronormative rules are persecuted by both state and non-state actors. Due to the lack of transparency in the Islamic Republic’s judicial system, there are no reliable statistics on the number of people charged for alleged ‘crimes’ related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, rights groups have extensively documented instances of queerphobic violence, including the gruesome murder of Alireza Fazeli Monfared by their family in 2021 and transmisogyny leading to the murder of trans youth Henar in 2022 and Siavash in 2018

‘This horrific murder serves as more shocking proof that Iran’s system of gender apartheid perpetuates rife discrimination and violence – and even justifies murder. The international community must do everything it can to pressure the Islamic Republic to overhaul its judicial system, which explicitly imposes a culture of impunity for crimes against LGBTQ people and communities,’ said Quinn McKew, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director. 

According to an interview Parsa’s father gave to Rokna while in custody after he committed murder, the child had endured abuse from their family as punishment for their gender non-conformist behaviour since the age of 14. The father referred to a list of behaviours that included using makeup, changing hair colour, and shaving body hair.

The father confessed that he had imprisoned Parsa at least once and had also forced them to go through ‘psychotherapy to be cured’. In face of the abuse, the child had previously escaped from home multiple times.

At one point the father also tried to transfer custody of Parsa to the State Welfare Organization of Iran (Behzisti). ‘However, Behzisti refused to accept Parsa due to [their] conditions,’ he said in an interview. There is no clarity as to why Behzisti refused to take Parsa in. In past interviews with local media, officials with the organisation have said Behzisti ‘does not have a centre for housing’ people struggling with gender dysphoria. The organisation, however, purports to offer aid to trans people, but the language used by its officials is overlaid with transphobia and supports transmedicalism and people undergoing medical procedures. The narrow confines imposed by the organisation clearly exclude a vast group of queer people, including trans individuals, and tie any form of support to intrusive and abusive ‘psychological evaluations’.

The child’s father eventually reached the point of murder after his alleged ‘shame’ before his community and after being informed of his child’s ‘heinous immoral acts’ with friends. Under the guise of taking his child to a psychiatric ward, he took Parsa to a place outside the city and murdered them. The 17-year-old child’s murder has once again laid bare the extent of harm caused by extreme and violent anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

The case is a harrowing example of the Islamic Republic’s gender apartheid system, which permeates through every facet of Iranian society and its institutions. Parsa’s case follows similar crimes of child homicide. 

In 2020, 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was beheaded by her father after eloping with a man of whom her father did not approve. She was initially detained after her family complained to the authorities. Despite pleas of an abusive home and that her father posed a significant danger to her life, the authorities handed her back over to her father’s custody. Subsequently, Romina’s father used a sickle to end her life. 

Both cases highlight Iran’s welfare system’s failure to protect marginalised and at-risk children and youth, especially when they are members of the LGBTQ community. 

The precedent of both 14-year-old Romina’s case, alongside the case of 20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared, who was beheaded by his half-brother and cousins for being queer, demonstrate legally-instituted impunity for such crimes and highlight the moral failings of Iran’s judicial system.  

Authorities only arrested Romina’s father after media attention, and then sentenced him to 9 years in jail. Typical non-familial murder cases result in death sentences. Article 222 of the Islamic Penal Code stipulates that fathers and paternal grandfathers cannot be sentenced to death for killing their own children. At the time of the sentencing, many people compared the 9 years in jail for murder to the 26-year sentence given to a young woman for simply removing her hijab in public. 

In the case of Alireza Monfared, the perpetrators were never arrested. According to one source, relatives initially told Alireza’s mother that those responsible were detained, but police officials later announced that they had escaped.

While the judicial proceedings are yet to take shape, it is concerning that, while in custody, Parsa’s father has been granted extensive media coverage and access. Authorities allowed local news website Rokna to interview him in jail. Publication of the father’s comments and the language of the article both reinforced justification for violence against the LGBTQ community and promoted hate speech towards individuals who do not conform to gender norms.

The Iranian authorities must stop perpetuating this level of hate and violence. Iran must embark on a systematic reform of the judicial system, followed by a re-examination of child welfare, laws, and media regulations when it comes to LGBTQ communities in the country.