The beheading of a 14-year-old Iranian girl who was killed by her father after she ran away with an older man who groomed her has sparked international outrage.
According to reports, Romina Ashrafi was murdered last Thursday by her father, Reza Ashrafi, who used a farming tool to cut off her head while she was asleep.
Citing local media, the BBC reports that Romina ran away from her home in Iran’s Gilan province with the 34-year-old man, Bahamn Khavari, after her father objected to their marriage.
The couple was found by police five days later. Although Romina reportedly warned police that her life would be in danger if she returned home, they escorted her back to her family.
According to Gilkhabar.ir, Ashrafi was brutally dismembered with a sickle, a tool with a curved blade that is generally used to harvest crops. Following the crime, the girl's father confessed to the crime "with the sickle in his hand” outside of the house.
On Wednesday, Romina's story was featured on the front pages of many national newspapers. On social media, the hashtag #RominaAshrafi has been fueled by posts from users worldwide who are demanding justice.
The Associated Press reports that Reza Ashrafi is now in police custody and is likely to be tried in a special court where he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Hovigh District Gov. Kazem Razmi told Iranian news agency IRNA, which is controlled by the Iranian regime, that an investigation into the killing is underway and results will be made public.
Many have described Romina's murder as an “honor killing,” an act prevalent in some hardline Muslim societies in which relatives kill family members who they believe have disgraced the family in some way.
On Wednesday, Iran President Hassan Rouhani called on his cabinet to swiftly enact stricter laws on honor killings.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president of family affairs, told the AP that he hopes a bill creating harsher punishments for honor killings will make it through its final stages of approval.
The U.N.'s Children's Fund issued a statement Thursday condemning the murder.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Romina Ashrafi, a 14-year-old Iranian girl, at the hands of her father,” the statement reads. “At a time when families all over the world are staying home to protect themselves from COVID-19, it’s particularly devastating that a child loses her life in such a brutal act of violence.”
UNICEF stressed that “nothing justifies violence against children.”
“All children in Iran — every girl and every boy — should be protected at all times against all forms of violence,” the UNICEF statement concluded. “UNICEF confirms its support to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to put an end to all forms of violence against children in the country so that all children grow up protected and safe.”
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad wrote on Twitter that Ashrafi isn’t the first and won’t be the last victim of honor killings in Iran if laws aren’t changed.
“Years ago, Atefeh Navidi, a young girl from Iran, had her head chopped off by her father as well because she had a boyfriend. As you can hear from the interview I had with the mom, she's hesitant to defend her daughter,” Alinejad wrote. “For as long as the current laws discriminating against girls and empowering abusive parents exist, unfortunately the cycle of violence will continue. Iran will see more Ruminas and Atefehs tragically killed by their fathers. This cycle of violence needs to end.”
The group Amnesty International criticized Iranian authorities for returning Ashrafi to her father despite her pleas for safety.
“We're appalled that the Iranian authorities repeatedly ignored Romina's pleas for protection from her violent and abusive father,” Amnesty Iran tweeted.