Mohammad Ali Najafi, the former mayor of Tehran, was arrested on Tuesday after confessing to the murder of his wife, Mitra Ostad. The case has outraged critics — not only because of the nature of the crime, but because of the bizarre handling of the case by authorities and the media.
Hours after news agencies reported that Ostad’s body had been found in the bathtub of her apartment, shot in the chest and arm, Najafi walked into a police station and admitted to killing her, according to Al Jazeera. In a hearing on Wednesday, he claimed that he had asked Ostad, who was one of his two wives, for a divorce, but she had refused.
“My second wife frequently threatened me to initially destroy the lives of my first wife and my daughter, and then ruin mine by cheating on me,” Najafi said, per Al Jazeera. He claimed he had only intended to frighten Ostad with the gun, but accidentally fired it after she scuffled with him.
But before formal proceedings took place, officials made a controversial move, granting state broadcaster IRIB access to Najafi at the police station, The New York Times reports. Footage from the interview shows the former mayor sipping tea with officials, apparently unhandcuffed. Najafi later calmly recounts his version of the crime, telling an IRIB reporter that his wife would not accept a divorce “because of the special temperament she had, which caused me to make such a mistake and made her lose her life too.” Another clip shows the reporter handling the murder weapon, removing the magazine and counting the bullets.
Critics expressed alarm on social media. “A correspondent with Iran’s state broadcaster handles the gun allegedly used by Najafi to shoot his wife without gloves,” one Twitter user wrote. “I’m not entirely certain at what stage of forensic analysis it’s ok for a reporter to handle evidence like that.”
Others were angered that Najafi had been given the state media platform to give his version of the story in the fatal domestic violence incident. As The Independent points out, state media have in the past been criticized for normalizing violence against women. Earlier this year, for instance, state media aired an interview with a couple who said they had reconciled their marriage after the wife had tried to divorce her husband 27 times and he had physically abused her.
The relationship between Najafi and Ostad had been controversial since it was made public. Some criticized the age gap between the couple, according to the Times; he is 67, and she was 35 at the time of her death. And although polygamy is legal in Iran, some took issue with his marrying a second wife.
The circumstances surrounding Najafi’s resignation from his position as mayor last year, after he had served for just eight months, were also controversial. Najafi said he had stepped down due to poor health, but according to The Washington Post, he had been involved in investigating corruption allegations against his predecessor, a powerful conservative figure.
Prior to his resignation, he had been criticized by hardliners for attending a girls’ dance performance in celebration of International Women’s Day. Although that incident elicited some sympathy for Najafi, many Iranians are horrified by his recent actions and the deference that has been shown to him by officials. “I understand that he is an old, famous official in the Islamic Republic, and they need to maintain some sort of caution for his political position,” journalist Moein Khazaeli told Al Jazeera. “But he is a murderer after all.”