On the Rape and Murder of a 6-Year-Old Afghan Girl in Iran

The rape and murder last month of 6-year-old Afghan refugee girl Setayesh Qoreishi is endemic to the long history of neglect, abuse, discrimination and human rights violations that Afghans have suffered in Iran for decades.

Setayesh was born to an Afghan refugee family living in the Varamin suburb of Tehran. On April 9, she disappeared after going out to buy ice cream. Her family reported her missing the same day, but the police would only discover her body days later.

After she was abducted, Setayesh was raped and stabbed to death, according to her parents. The alleged perpetrator, a 17-year-old Iranian boy from the same neighborhood then reportedly tried to destroy the evidence of his crime by immersing Setayesh’s body in acid. The accused reportedly called on a friend to assist him in disposing of Setayesh’s body, but instead his friend immediately notified the police and the 17 year old was taken into custody.

Though Iranian officials announced that Setayesh’s case would be dealt with immediately, regardless of her nationality and status, the incident drew a very strong official response from Kabul. A history of discrimination against Afghan refugees in Iran has human rights advocates and officials in Kabul concerned that the Iranian authorities may neglect the case.

Amongst these advocates demanding justice for Setayesh is Women for Afghan Women (WAW)—a women’s rights organization based in New York and Kabul—which strongly condemned the incident. The day after Setayesh’s body was discovered, WAW issued a press release calling upon Afghan and Iranian officials to ensure that a full investigation be conducted into the rape and murder of the 6 year old and that the perpetrator be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Iranian human rights activists joined other activists worldwide in condemning the crime and announced their solidarity with the family of Setayesh. Iranian activists led a campaign on social media demanding justice for Setayesh and her family.

The murder and rape of Setayesh and the great outcry against this heinous crime spotlights a long history of unaddressed harassment, oppression, abuse and neglect that Afghan refugees and nationals have suffered for decades in Iran. Based on a report published in the Kabul Times, almost three million Afghans are living in Iran; the vast majority work as day laborers, while their children have little to no access to the Iranian school system. Afghans are denied fair access to the justice system, and cannot own properties or a business.

A report by Human Rights Watch points to evidence that many Afghan refugees, including refugee children, are forcibly recruited by the Iranian government to fight in Syria in support of the Assad regime under threat of deportation back to Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch also reports that Afghan nationals in Iranian prisons are regularly denied their rights to a fair trial and a proper legal defence, with cases being resolved without any notification to the appropriate Afghan authorities, all of which is in clear contravention of Iran’s legal obligations under international law. Concerns that the perpetrator in Setayesh’s case will not be prosecuted, or that Setayesh and her family will not get a fair trial, are indicative of Iran’s poor track record in protecting these and other rights of Afghan refugees in Iran.

Many other similar attacks against Afghan women took place last year. For instance, the mob killing of Farkhunda Malikzada a 27-year-old woman who was falsely accused of burning Quran and was stoned to death, driven over and then set on fire by mob of angry men publicly in March 2015 in Kabul; the stoning of Rukshana, a 23-year-old woman who was stoned to death by Taliban militants for allegedly committing adultery; and violence against Rezagul, a 20-year-old Afghan woman whose nose was cut off by her husband.

Now, Setayesh’s incident is fueling anger among human rights and civil society activists. They have raised their voices time and again and proved that they have zero tolerance when it comes to this kind of abuse. Their advocacy strategies—including pressuring both the Iranian and Afghan governments to change their laws and policies—demand justice for the victims and require reforms of laws and policies so that women are well-protected.

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Tamana Heela, Women for Afghan Women’s advocacy officer, is herself an Afghan refugee currently residing in the United States. She works with WAW in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about the state of Afghan women and their rights. She holds a BA in journalism from Kabul University and has an MA in human rights from Birkbeck, University of London.