Sajjad Heydari and his brother were arrested this week after shocking video footage showed Heydari carrying the severed head of his wife, Mona Heydari, through the streets of Iran. According to the video, Sajjad Heydari was seen smiling, carrying the head and a long blade.
According to police reports, Heydari killed his wife in what’s considered an “honor killing.” Official police reports listed the motive as “family differences.” While they have been arrested, it is unclear what kind of punishment the two men will face. Mona Heydari was just 17 years old at the time of her death.
Islamic Republic law states that men who kill family members for reasons of honor and reputation can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. Police report that two men confessed to the killing of Mona Heydari, and they were officially arrested four hours after the disturbing video surfaced online.
Sharia law also states that only “blood owners,” or other family members are the only ones able to demand justice for an “honor killing.” Many killings go unpunished because family members don’t want their relatives to receive heavy punishment.
The video was reportedly captured in Ahvaz, which is a southwest province in Khuzestan.
WARNING: The description below is graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.
The young woman was forced to marry Sajjad Heydari when she was 12. They were first cousins. Mona Heydari was reportedly abused by her husband and wanted a divorce from him. She was pressured to stay because of the couple’s 3-year-old son.
The 17-year-old had recently escaped to Turkey, but according to reports, she returned to Iran because she found it difficult to live in another country alone. She spent a couple days in Iran before she was found by her husband and brother-in-law. The two men reportedly tied her arms and legs together before cutting off her head.
They wrapped her body in a blanket and then dumped the remains. Sajjad Heydari then walked through the streets with his wife’s head.
The video of the smiling husband was first published by Rokna news agency, the news site was then banned by Iran’s media watchdog for publishing such a graphic video.
Since Mona Heydari’s killing, many women’s rights activists have spoken out and are demanding justice for the 17-year-old.
The NCRI’s Women’s Committee said, “Not a week goes by without some form of honour killing making headlines. The catastrophic rise in honour killings in Iran is rooted in misogyny and the patriarchal culture institutionalised in the laws and society. Although the father, brother or husband holds the knife, sickle or rifle, the murders are rooted in the medieval outlook of the ruling regime.”
In 2019, a state-run newspaper in Iran reported that annually about 375 to 450 honor killings are reported in the country. The country has seen a recent rise in “honor killings,” and many of them are young girls, some as young as 10 years old.
Motives for honor killings are typically “family differences,” and some women’s rights activists say that this could be defined as a whole list of things, including divorce or a rejected proposal.
Rezvan Moghaddam, who has spent the last decade documenting these killings, said, “This is just an effort to conceal the truth. For example, what could be the family difference between a father and his 13-year-old daughter or between a brother and his elder sister? There are other reasons behind these differences. In other cases, families regard divorce as a disgrace. To protect the family’s dignity, male relatives murder a woman who asks for a divorce. Again, this is explained under the title of ‘family differences.’
She continued and said, “their fiancées kill some women for saying no to their proposals. These murders take place because the man believes he owns the body of his fiancé. He views her negative answer as an insult to himself. I believe honor killings are rooted in the sense of ‘owning a woman’s body and life, and any murder rooted in this sense of ownership is considered an honor killing.”