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The last word in Iranian justice? Revenge.

Shabnam von Hein / esOctober 8, 2014

A young Iranian woman is due to be executed, because she killed a man in self-defense. The family of the slain man can pardon her, but they are intent on revenge.

Iran - Reyhane Jabbari
Image: privat

Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, sits on death row. Every hour counts for her as she awaits her execution. Jabbari entered the Iranian judiciary seven years ago for killing a man in self defense, she said. Her victim, the 47-year-old Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, wanted to rape her, Jabbari told the court. Sarbandi was a physician and a former employee of Iranian intelligence. The case stirred the Iranian public and has dominated social networks ever since.

Jabbari's execution wasreportedly scheduled for Wednesday. "We learned this date from the media, no one has officially informed us," said Shole Pakravan, Jabbari's mother, on Tuesday in an interview with Deutsche Welle. She had recently spoken with her daughter, who seemed confused and tired.

Pakravan received a call from the prison 10 days ago. She was informed that her daughter was to be executed on September 29 at five o'clock and she could come pick up the body at eight. Jabbari had to leave her personal belongings behind and was taken to another prison for the sentence to be carried out, according to her mother.

Vorbereitung einer Hinrichtung im Iran
The UN estimates that Iran executed 411 people in the first half of 2014Image: Mehr

In order to save her daughter's life, Pakravan published the contents of this call on social media and asked the public for help. In fact, the execution was postponed, in Pakravan's opinion, because of the public pressure, she told DW.

Now only one thing can save her daughter: if the slain man's family pardons Jabbari. But Sarbandi's family of refuses to do this on the grounds that Jabbari dragged his good name through the mud with allegations of rape.

The events of seven years ago

Jabbari was 19 years old when she ran into Sarbandi in a café. She was working as an interior designer and decorator. The doctor and former employee of the Iranian intelligence service commissioned Jabbari to set up an office for him in an empty apartment. They agreed to meet the following day.

Before picking her up in his car, Sarbandi stopped at a pharmacy. Later it became clear that bought condoms and sleeping pills there. In the apartment, Sarbandi offered the young woman a glass of juice. The police later found that it contained barbiturates.

Then, according to Jabbari testimony, Sarbandi tried to force her to have sex. She defended herself with a knife, stabbed him in the shoulder and fled the apartment. Jabbari then called the emergency services to send help for Sarbandi. He had, however, bled to death.

The coroner found that the stab of the long blade had punctured Sarbandi's lungs and Jabbari was arrested shortly after the incident. According to her lawyer, there is testimony that says a third person was present at the time of the offense. This lead has not been investigated by the authorities.

Retribution as justice

It is one of the peculiarities of the Iranian judicial system that the family of a crime's victim may decide on the enforcement of a sentence. Thus Jabbari's life in the hands of the Sarbandi family. Iran's Supreme Court held up Jabbari's death sentence after she was found guilty by a lower court.

It has nothing to do with justice, said Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.

Shirin Ebadi Portrait
Lawyer Shirin Ebadi was the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace PrizeImage: picture alliance/dpa

"Retribution is not justice. If someone wins this right of retaliation in Iran, he can decide on the freedom and death of another human being," the lawyer and human rights activist told DW. "This is far from a fair procedure in which an offender is brought to justice. Even the family of the deceased are treated unfairly: you must decide after the loss of a loved one on the life or death of another human being - and live your whole life with this decision."

Human rights groups urge a review of the case

The case of Jabbari has found a broad audience in Iran. More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition in which they call for her rescue. Nearly 16,000 people follow the "Save Reyhaneh" Facebook page with current news on her case.

Amnesty International and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran have called for an investigation of Jabbari's case. The situation leaves serious doubts about the legal process, said UN special envoy Ahmed Shaheed Shaheed, who added, "Especially in view of their line of questioning and the refusal of the court that all the relevant circumstances be considered in the judgment."

Amnesty International also pointed out that Jabbari was kept for two months after her arrest in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran. There, she had no access to legal counsel or contact with her family.

Jabbari's lawyer said she would continue to fight for the suspension of the death sentence and a resumption of legal proceedings, but also admitted that doesn't have much hope for a stay of the execution.

"At this stage of the process we can only hope that the family of Sarbani pardons Reyhaneh," attorney Parisa Ghanbari told DW.