By Itika Singh:
Iran has once again found itself at the receiving end of fierce criticism, from international organizations and individuals alike. The country’s controversial practice of executing convicts has come under the spotlight with the execution of a 26-year old interior designer who was convicted for murder. Reyhaneh Jabbari has been on trial for seven years for killing Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former worker of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, who, according to her, had allegedly tried to sexually assault her.
The rising number of executions in Iran is controversy enough. According to human rights organization Amnesty International, Iran executed more than 369 people in 2013. Globally, this number is second only to China, which is also the most populated country in the world. Other sources suggest that the above may be a conservative estimate. “On average, more than 2 people are executed every day,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson of NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), told IBTimes UK. “So far in 2014 at least 560 people have been executed”. Further, there are allegation that Iran exploits the death penalty to execute minorities and opponents of the government. Crimes such as drug offenses, cursing the Prophet, murder, adultery, incest, rape, fornication, drinking alcohol, homosexual sex, as well as “being at enmity with God” and “corruption on earth” are punishable with death. But there’s more to this case than the death penalty alone.
After the execution was carried out, the Tehran state prosecutor’s office issued a statement that said: “Jabbari had repeatedly confessed to premeditated murder, then tried to divert the case from its course by inventing the rape charge.” The statement also added, “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.”
International agencies, however, have taken a different view of the case. United Nations believes that 19-year-old Jabbari was called by Sarbandi to his office on the pretext of an interior designing consultation, and that Jabbari stabbed him in self-defence when he sexually assaulted her. Jabbari had also claimed that there was a third person on scene at the time, who actually killed Sarbandi. This, coupled with reports that Jabbari’s confession had been made under duress, had raised questions about the fairness of the trial. Demands of a re-trial were made by Amnesty International and echoed by the European Union and UN, among others. The case sparked off a global campaign – a petition demanding clemency for Jabbari was signed by about 1,90,000 people. But Iran chose to overlook the protests and executed Jabbari in the early hours of Saturday.
In a statement made after the execution, Jen Psaki, spokesperson for US State Department, said, “There were serious concerns with the fairness of the trial and the circumstances surrounding this case, including reports of confessions made under severe duress.” Amnesty International also condemned the execution and said “Amnesty International understands that, at the outset of the investigation, Reyhaneh Jabbari admitted to stabbing the man once in the back, but claimed she had done so after he had tried to sexually abuse her,” the rights group said. “She also maintained that a third person in the house had been involved in the killing. These claims, if proven, could exonerate her but are believed never to have been properly investigated, raising many questions about the circumstances of the killing.” The organization has also earlier said that Iran’s judicial authorities were reported to have pressured Jabbari to replace her lawyer, for a more inexperienced one, in an apparent attempt to prevent an investigation of her claims.
Jabbari’s is not the first case of death penalty in Iran that has been highlighted by the International media. Another execution, that of a psychotherapist Mohsen Amir-Aslami, also made headlines. Cases such as these have been followed by calls for abolition of the death penalty altogether. But if there is to be an ethical discussion over death penalty, one needs to first look at the varying levels of attention paid to executions in different countries. Saudi Arabia also follows the Sharia law like Iran, and holds public executions. But unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia is an ally of USA. So, even as individual cases of executions in Iran make it to public knowledge, similar cases in Saudi Arabia seldom do. In China too, the human rights violations have taken a back seat with its rising economic growth. What is needed now is to have an equal approach to the issue. The defaulter is not one, but many, and global activism for the issue too should not be just limited to one.