A woman who spent seven years on death row in Iran has been spared execution by the family of the police chief she stabbed to death and sexually mutilated for trying to rape her.
The death sentence for the woman, Afsaneh Nowrouzi, raised an outcry from activists and drew the attention of international groups who sought to overturn the order.
This week, following mediation by the judiciary, the family of the policeman, Behzad Moghaddam, agreed to accept compensation of $62,500 instead of Nowrouzi’s execution.
“With the efforts of judiciary officials, family members of the victim were persuaded to give up retribution in this case and signed in a notary public office not to demand death for Nowrouzi in exchange for blood money,” said Mohsen Yektan-Khodaei, a top provincial judiciary official.
Another official said Nowrouzi, 34, was expected to be released from prison soon.
Shocking new details
In 1997, Nowrouzi killed Moghaddam, the police chief on Kish island in the Persian Gulf. Her lawyer said she also cut off his penis and placed it on his chest, a previously confidential detail that will be sure to shock this conservative country, where even talking about sex is taboo.
The court rejected her claim of self-defense, convicting her of murder and sentencing her to death. She has been held in a prison in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas ever since.
The case highlighted how difficult it can be for Iranian women to obtain justice against rapists. Unless a woman has very strong evidence, it is very difficult to prove that she was raped, and sometimes she ends up being charged with adultery or illicit sex, which carry the death penalty — usually hanging or stoning. If she kills the attempted rapist, she can be tried for murder and also sentenced to death.
If a man is proven to have raped a woman, he also faces execution. In most cases, however, the man is freed by judges who traditionally blame women for attracting sexual advances.
Iran’s Supreme Court initially upheld the Nowrouzi’s death sentence, but last year, under intense international pressure, the chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered a stay of the verdict.
The Supreme Court took a second look at the case and overturned the death sentence due to “technical deficiencies.” It ordered a new ruling from the Kish court.
Family urged to relent
As the court was readdressing the case, judiciary officials intervened with Moghaddam’s family.
Yektan-Khodaei, the provincial official, said they urged Moghaddam’s mother and his two children to show mercy to Nowrouzi, a mother of two.
But Nowrouzi’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said his client never sought mercy because she believed she had justly defended herself.
“The victim’s family members did a good thing signing documents not calling for Nowrouzi’s death despite my client’s refusal to request mercy,” he said.
Sara Irani, a women’s activist and lawyer, praised the resolution of the case.
“The execution of Nowrouzi would have forced women to give in to humiliation and not defend themselves. It would mean women are condemned to death whether they kill the rapist or give in to sex,” she said.
“Nowrouzi’s freedom will give new breath to women to find the courage to stand up for their rights and defend themselves,” Irani said.
Nowrouzi or her family must pay the compensation. Judiciary official Mohammad Javad Yavari said the death sentence could not be brought against Nowrouzi again.