Reyhaneh Jabbari (Credit: MercatorNet)
The hanging last Saturday of a young Iranian woman convicted of murdering her alleged rapist has caused an international outcry, including condemnation by the US Department of State and the British Foreign Office.
Amnesty International, which had led a campaign to save the 26-year-old, said the execution was “deeply disappointing in the extreme”.
Amnesty says Reyhaneh Jabbari was convicted after a “deeply flawed investigation”, and the United Nations office of human rights says her conviction was based on confessions made under threat of torture. Since Iran is a country where Islamic law — with its notable bias against women’s testimony — holds sway, one is inclined to believe that.
Amnesty says executions are on the rise in Iran, which adheres to the Qur’anic law of “an eye for an eye”. There were at least 369 executions last year and 250 so far this year, which makes Iran second only to China in the number of people it executes. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on Iran, gives even higher figures: 687 in 2013, and at least 852 from June 2013 to June 2014.
Amongst all these executions, those involving women (around 30 last year) gain international attention because the status of women in Islamic majority countries is very much on the radar of the human rights movement.
Under Iranian law, if a woman injures or kills a rapist in self-defense, she will have to demonstrate that her defense was equal to the danger she faced, and that inflicting harm was her last resort in escaping rape. Without any witnesses, this must be hard to do.
In many Western countries, a 19-year-old woman just starting to make her way in the world, who became entangled with an older man, client or not, became afraid of him, felt exploited by him, or even felt driven to take his life — this young woman would get a sympathetic hearing in court and, even if convicted of premeditated murder would face at the most a long prison sentence, during which she could learn and change and eventually begin a new life in freedom. It has happened.
Reyhaneh Jabbari had the misfortune to belong to a society that believes in an eye for an eye, a life for a life, as if cutting off another life rather than allowing it time to be reformed could really make up for the crime of killing. The international community is trying to shame Iran into pulling back from this path. It would help if the most prominent Western nation in the human rights league, the US, would show that it, too, can do without capital punishment completely.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.