WASHINGTON, November 2, 2014 — The cases of two women in Iran this week starkly demonstrate the continued hard-line rule of law in that country. They also show that despite moderate rhetoric, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not ushered in a kinder, gentler or more reasonable political culture.
On October 26, officials in Tehran hanged 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari for killing a former intelligence officer who she says tried to sexually assault her.
According to Jabbari, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi had hired her to redesign his office, but then attempted to attack her when she arrived at his home. She admitted to stabbing Sarbandi in the back with a pen when he tried to attack her. She said she did not kill him, however, and that another man in the house was responsible for Sarbandi’s murder.
Numerous human rights organizations accused Tehran of carrying out a flawed trial. Amnesty International called the investigation and trial, “deeply flawed” and noted that none of Jabbari’s claims were ever investigated. The United Nations human rights group said Jabbari’s confession was extorted, making it null, and that she should have a retrial. Amnesty also reported that judicial authorities pressured Jabbari to replace her attorney with a less experienced one.
As an intelligence officer, Sarbandi was extremely powerful in Iran. His family told the Court the murder was premeditated, and claimed she admitted to buying a knife several days before the murder.
International actors and human rights activists had appealed to Iran to stay the execution, but the government refused.
Jabbari wrote a letter to her mother before her execution. In it, she notes:
The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night I should have been killed. My body would have been dumped in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.
On the Iranian justice system, she says:
How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when, under the blows of the interrogator, I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.
The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embracing death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge the judge, and the judges of the country’s Supreme Court that beat me when I was awake and who did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those who, out of ignorance or with their lies, wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.
Iran followed Jabbari’s execution with a one-year sentence for a British-Iranian woman who attempted to attend a men’s volleyball match. In a closed trial where no family members were allowed, 25-year-old Ghoncheh Ghavami was convicted of “propagating against the Islamic State of Iran.”
On June 20, Ghavami and 40 others demonstrated outside Tehran’s Azadi Statium and demanded that women be allowed to watch the volleyball match between Iran and Italy. The demonstrators were arrested and then released.
In Iran, women are prohibited from watching certain male sporting events, including football and volleyball.
Ten days later, Ghavami was re-arrested. Authorities held her in solitary confinement with no access to an attorney for several weeks. Her family says that authorities used intimidation and psychological torture against her while she was in custody.
After 100 days in detention without a trial, Ghavami and her mother went on a hunger strike. The state then officially charged her and granted her a trial date.
Her attorney says there is no grounds for appeal, but hopes her sentence will be reduced for “good behavior.”