Remembering Atefeh

Atefeh Rajavi Sahaaleh, (1987-2004,) was a girl from a small town, Neka, in Northern Iran. Her mother died when she was a small child and her father was an addict and neglected her. She was raised mostly by her grandparents. She was an isolated, lonely child and extremely vulnerable. At the age of twelve she was raped and prostituted by a taxi driver who was formerly a member of the Revolutionary Guard. She  - not her pimp or her rapists - was imprisoned, numerous times and, when she threatened to go public, she was sentenced to death and hanged, on August 15th, 2004, aged sixteen, for 'crimes against chastity.'

Even in Iran, it is illegal to execute a child so her documents were falsified. She is not the only one and Iran is not the only country that does this. The response in Iran was muted at first because the state owned and controlled media covered it up. Word got out though and women got increasingly angry.

The criminalisation of underage girls and corresponding impunity of their abusers will be horribly familiar to sex trade survivors the world over but, in Iran, where the bodies of women and girls are used to symbolise the male (dis)/'honour' of the nation state, it takes on another dimension: in effect the state is the pimp.

This pot was made with a group of Iranian friends, mostly refugees, both men and women, and was smashed in front of the Iranian Embassy in London, August 15th, 2011. I rebuilt it, leaving some pieces out so you can see the image of Atefeh inside. It remains the only image there is of her - it's from her ID card.

The edges of the gaps are picked out in gold to honour her short life and her brave attempt to fight the injustices she faced, alone and hugely disadvantaged.

Nasrine Sotoudeh, an extraordinarily courageous, Feminist Iranian human rights lawyer, made the following observation on Atefeh's case and countless others like hers:

"The courts somehow deal much more rigorously with the women than with the men. The weakest point in our downfall is that this is happening right in front of our eyes but, sadly, we pretend that we just don't see it."

Sotoudeh has herself been imprisoned and beaten on numerous occasions for standing up for girls like Atefeh and trying to represent and defend them in court.

Today we remember Atefeh, as the Taliban secure their hold on Kabul and the whole of Afghanistan, and women's sex-based, human rights take another turn for the worse. These are not good times for women.

decorated vase