Iran hangs 26-year-old woman for killing her alleged rapist

Despite international efforts to save her life, Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged on Oct. 25 for stabbing a man she accused of raping her as a teenager

Golara Sajadian/AFP Photo

Golara Sajadian/AFP Photo

On Oct. 25, an Iranian woman was hanged. The 26-year old was sentenced to die for stabbing a man to death, an intelligence official she accused of brutally raping her as a teenager. Reyhaneh Jabbari claimed she was defending herself but the courts hanged her anyway.

Mohammad Mostafaei, her lawyer, said Reyhaneh was not only denied a fair trial but fundamental legal principles were violated in her sentencing.

“It is not true that she had a fair trial. Because the deceased in this case belonged to the intelligence services, the court treated the case differently, and gave undue weight to the prosecution.  Key evidence in the case, and basic legal principles were ignored,” Mostafaei said.

Just before sunrise, she was hanged at Evin prison, a notorious destination for dissidents and intellectuals. The Iranian street calls it “Evin University”. Her sentence was based on a Shariah precedent called “qisas,” or “an eye for an eye”.

She was sentenced to die seven years ago for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a 47-year-old surgeon and former intelligence officer who raped Jabbari when he took her to his apartment to discuss redesigning his office. Jabbari was an interior designer at the time.

After serving seven years on death row, despite repeated attempts by human rights groups, Iranian actors and activists, and hundreds of thousands demanding a stay of execution, the victim’s relatives were given the opportunity to grant her a reprieve.

Under Islamic law in Iran, a victim’s relatives have 10 days to decide a stay of execution but the family refused to forgive her, convinced she was guilty. According to Morteza’s eldest son, Jalal, there was another man present with Jabbari in the apartment the day of his father’s murder but said she would not reveal the man’s identity.

In April, Jalal said his family “would not even contemplate mercy until truth is unearthed … Only when her true intentions are exposed and she tells the truth about her accomplice and what really went down will we be prepared to grant mercy,” he said.

The only other way her life could have been saved lay with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran who holds veto power over all state decisions, but he refused to intervene.

Immediately after the execution, Tehran’s state prosecutors issued a statement defending the state’s decisions to hang her.

“Jabbari had repeatedly confessed to premeditated murder, then tried to divert the case from its course by inventing the rape charge,” Iran’s state controlled news agency (IRNA) reported.

“But all her efforts to feign innocence were proven false in various phases of prosecution. Evidence was firm. She had informed a friend through text message of her intention to kill. It was ascertained that she had purchased the murder weapon, a kitchen knife, two days before committing murder,” the statement read.  Her execution is casting further doubts among secular and liberal Iranians about President Hassan Rouhani, the supposed liberal reformer elected to office last year.  Although many still take Rouhani to be a democrat, dedicated to rebuilding relations between Iran and the West and civil rights for ethnic and religious minorities, Jabbari’s execution is making that assumption increasingly difficult to accept.

The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize recipient and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has publicly criticized Rouhani’s record, noting that since he took office there has been a sharp rise in executions and the imprisonment of political dissidents.  Rouhani is also feeling pressure from his main supporters to stop the massive increase in acid attacks against women by Islamic fanatics.  However scant the evidence may be to call Rouhani a liberal, the perception is enough to stoke jihadi opposition and violent reprisals, particularly against women and vulnerable minorities.  More worrying is whether there will be any kind of liberal reforms that his supporters have wanted and fought for so many years.  Between the undeclared and unmentionable war against Saudi Arabia and the unresolved nuclear debacle between Iran and the West, the liberal agenda in Persia remains very much in doubt. Be that as it may, the resolve of the Iranian democracy movement remains strong and many brave organizations are putting their lives on the line for liberal democracy in Persia.  The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), for example, is one of Iran’s most prominent liberal democracy movements, a broad coalition of organizations and activists from the Iranian street who oppose the tyrannical rule of the clerics. On the day of her execution, the NCRI released an audio recording by Reyhaneh that was addressed to her mother, Sholeh. For Jabbari, it was her will and final letter but for us it is timeless.  The letter has been reprinted here on page 11. It is courageous, soul-searching, and a harsh reminder of the sacrifice some people are willing to make for liberty.

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