Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Atefeh Sahaleh Rajabi

About

Age: 16
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: August 15, 2004
Location of Killing: Neka, Mazandaran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Adultery
Age at time of offense: 16

About this Case

A 16-year-old girl who had been arrested three times in the course of one year, on charges of “Non-Muhsan Zina”, and was sentenced to 100 lashes each time, was sentenced to be hanged in public after her fourth arrest.

News of the execution of Ms. Atefeh Sahaleh (Rajabi), child of Bibi Ra’ee and Safarali, was published in Kayhan newspaper (August 22, 2004) and on the Amnesty International website (August 23, 2004). Additional information about this case was obtained from news published in Iran (August 29, 2004) and Etemad (September 21, 2004) newspapers, ISNA Iranian Students News Agency website (September 10, 2004), Mazandnume News and Analysis Website (August 22, 2004, September 11 and 30, 2004, February 16, 2005), and from the Amnesty International Report dated January 1, 2011.

Ms. Sahaleh was born on September 21, 1987, to an extremely poor family in the town of Neka in Mazandaran Province. Her family moved to [the city of] Mashhad after her birth. Her parents were divorced when she was still a toddler, with her father assuming guardianship of the children. Her mother remarried after the divorce and died in an automobile accident when Ms. Sahaleh was 5 years old. A short while later, Ms. Sahaleh’s brother drowned in a river. Her father was an itinerant vendor, and he would leave Ms. Sahaleh and her sister with the neighbors since he had to travel to other towns. At one point he entrusted them to the Khorassan Province Welfare Organization for a while, until he ultimately took them to their grandparents’ home in the town of Neka and left for good. When Ms. Sahaleh got a little older, she had to assume all the responsibilities at her grandfather’s home, and take care of her 90-year-old grandfather and 70-year-old grandmother. Her relatives and people close to her describe her as a very kind girl. (Mazandnume, ISNA).

Ms. Sahaleh’s case was related to sex crimes.

Arrest and detention

The town of Neka police officers arrested Ms. Sahaleh in May 2004, at her grandfather’s home. On April 25, 2003, Neka law enforcement officials received unsigned reports against Ms. Sahaleh which were said to be from the people living in the neighborhood. A few days later, following her grandfather lodging a complaint against her, a judicial official issued a warrant for Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest. After her arrest, the agents proceeded to search the home and arrested another young girl who was in the house at the time, along with Ms. Sahaleh. Two men, who, according to Ms. Sahaleh, had relations with her were arrested and questioned as well. (Iran newspaper).

Ms. Sahaleh was arrested on the basis of unsigned local reports and her grandfather's complaint. 

Ms. Sahaleh’s father announced in an interview that during the three months Ms. Sahaleh was in detention, he only visited with her for 10 minutes. (Mazandnume).

There is no information regarding other details of Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest and detention.

Trial

The town of Neka General Court Branch One tried Ms. Sahaleh. Since Ms. Sahaleh could not afford to hire an attorney, she was assigned a court-appointed one. There is no information about the trial session(s).

Charges

The charge against Ms. Sahaleh’s was declared to be “Non-Musena Zina” (“Fornication”, or consensual sexual intercourse between two people not married to each other, unlawful in Islam) [1]. (Kayhan newspaper, Mazandnume). However, a Neka judiciary official stated that the charges brought against Ms. Sahaleh were “Efsad fel-Arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”) through “establishing a corruption center”, as well as “unlawful (contrary to Shar’a law) sexual relations” and “indecent acts [against chastity]”. (Mazandnume).

She was first arrested when she was only 14 and was charged with “corruption” and “fornication”. The second arrest occurred less than two months later, and the third one about six months after that. She had been sentenced to a total of 300 lashes.

Based on available information, during her trial sessions, Ms. Sahaleh admitted  and confessed to four counts of fornication and to undergoing the Hadd punishment of flogging three times. (Kayhan and Iran newspapers). Prior to her last arrest, Ms. Sahaleh had been arrested and charged with “corruption” and “fornication” on three separate occasions and was convicted and sentenced each time to 100 lashes. These sentences had been carried out in the space of less than a year, on January 17, 2002, and March 16, 2002, (when she was just 14 years old) and September 21, 2002 (six months after the second sentence). (Mazandnume).

Evidence of guilt

The Town of Neka General Court Branch One judge cited a complaint lodged by Ms. Sahaleh’s grandfather and unsigned reports from several neighborhood residents alleging that “a young girl in this neighborhood has engaged in corruption and prostitution, and has immoral relations with a number of individuals” as evidence for Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest and prosecution. Pursuant to the judge’s order, an inquiry was made with Behshahr Prison regarding Ms. Sahaleh’s record, which showed that she had a record of imprisonment in 2000-01. (Iran newspaper, Mazandnume).

Defense

There is no information regarding details of Ms. Sahaleh or her court-appointed attorney’s defense at trial.

Based on available information, there are numerous defects in the manner the investigations and the proceedings were conducted as well as violations of the laws. Among these are the following:

1. Ms. Sahaleh’s age:

The judiciary officials announced Ms. Sahaleh’s age as 22 (Kayhan and Iran newspapers). According to a report by Mazandnume website, the trial judge stated Ms. Sahaleh’s age as 22 in the court decision as well as in his correspondence with the Supreme Court. Furthermore, her date of birth is stated as 1982 in the burial permit.

Ms. Sahaleh’s father and aunt (her father’s sister) stated, however, that she was only 16 years old at the time of the arrest and the implementation of her sentence, and according to her birth certificate, her academic records, and a copy of the death certificate issued by the State Personal Information Registration Organization, Ms. Sahaleh’s date of birth was September 21, 1987. (Mazandnume).

Judiciary officials declared Ms. Sahaleh’s age to be 22 when she was actually only 16 years old.

Pursuant to the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Islamic Penal Code, there are special rules and regulations that govern proceedings and issuance of a sentence for children and young adults (juvenile, minors who have not reached the legal age). [2]. In spite of the fact that Ms. Sahaleh was under the age of 17 at the time of her arrest, she was considered to be 22 years old throughout the proceedings and none of the regulations providing for leniency were applied in her case. Furthermore, in accordance with the judicial precedent in force in Iran, death sentences issued for individuals under the age of 18 are usually delayed until they reach 18. It seems that if judiciary officials had taken Ms. Sahaleh’s real age into account, not only it is possible that a death sentence would not have been issued in her case, but even in the event that one had been issued, it would have been delayed until she reached the age of 18.

2. A claim of mental  disorder:

According to Ms. Sahaleh’s family members, she was not of completely sound mind, mentally and emotionally healthy. According to them, Ms. Sahaleh would become extremely agitated and abusive at times. (Mazandnume).

On May 23, 2004, in her objection to the trial court’s verdict, she stated that she suffered from periodic insanity and had written to the Court of Appeals: “I witnessed my parents’ disputes and conflicts in my childhood. I was very young when my mother left my father, and subsequently died in a car accident. My brother drowned in a river six months later. My sister and I grew up in the city of Mashhad and I was turned over to my grandparents when I hit puberty. There is medical documentation and evidence that proves that I suffer from a weak mental and emotional state and that there are times in a 24-hour period where I lose my senses and my mind and I become capable of doing anything, negative or positive… I can only prove my claim through the testimony of local affiants and witnesses and medical tests by the Medical Examiner’s Office.” (ISNA, Mazandnume). These claims and requests made by Ms. Sahaleh were ignored and disregarded in all phases of the proceedings.

According to the family’s statements and to affidavits from neighborhood residents, Ms. Sahaleh suffered from mental health issues.

Residents of Ms. Sahaleh’s neighborhood wrote affidavits attesting that Ms. Sahaleh was not of sound mind and suffered from mental and emotional disorders. Based on available information, on May 22, 2004, a number of neighborhood residents submitted a letter containing 43 signatures to the court in which they stated: “We, the residents of Rah Ahan Street in Neka (Navvab Safavi Street), who are among the trusted locals of Neka, have sufficient information that Atefeh Sahaleh, daughter of Safarali, is not of sound mind, and suffers from mental illness. This information is provided in order to prevent her prosecution.” Another affidavit containing signatures of 44 of Ms. Sahaleh’s neighbors, relatives, and acquaintances, attests to her periodic insanity and mental imbalance. (ISNA, Mazandnume).

Since the charges against Ms. Shahaleh’s were proved through her confession in court, and since, in accordance with her written admission as to periodic insanity and the affidavits of the locals existing in the case file, she suffered from behavioral and mental disorders, her court confession is not admissible, because pursuant to the law, a person who makes an admission or confession, must do so being of completely sound mind and with her own volition. (Mazandnume).

3. Defects in the investigations and violations of the law

Pursuant to the Islamic Penal Code, the punishment for adultery is stoning and the punishment for fornication is 100 lashes. Furthermore, Article 136 of the Islamic Penal Code provides: “Whenever a person commits a crime that is subject to Hadd punishment three separate times, and each time the Hadd punishment is carried out, the Hadd punishment for the fourth time shall be death.”

Based on available information, prior to her last arrest, Ms. Sahaleh had been arrested three times on similar charges, and all three times, the charges were proven on the basis of her admission; the sentence for fornication (100 lashes) was carried out three times. (ISNA). However, Ms. Sahaleh was never examined to determine whether she was of sound mind and in a healthy mental state to see if she was of sound mind when she made self-incriminating confessions. Given the doubt as to the accuracy of her previous admissions and the uncertainty as to the correctness of the previous sentences (three Hadd punishments for the crime of fornication in the span of one year), the court’s decision in issuing a sentence of death by hanging – as a substitute for the Hadd punishment of stoning for committing fornication for a fourth time – is defective and inacceptable.

The adjudication of Ms. Sahaleh’s case took only 105 days from the time of her arrest until the sentence was carried out.

Furthermore, based on the text of the trial court’s decision and the decision of the Court of Appeals, “the judge’s knowledge” was also mentioned as evidence for proving the charge (along with the defendant’s confession). The decision issued by Supreme Court Branch 32 states: “In addition to the defendant’s confession, the fact that the defendant provided precise details of the subject matter and of the manner and specifics of the relations, resulted in the judge having knowledge [of the facts and evidence of the case].” (Mazandnume). However, “the judge’s knowledge” is not among the ways available to prove adultery [and fornication][3], and must not be relied upon by the judge for the issuance of the sentence.

Since the adjudication of Ms. Sahaleh’s case took only 105 days from the time of her arrest until the sentence was carried out, one may conclude that not only were sufficient investigations into the alleged crime and into her mental health and soundness of mind not conducted by judicial and law enforcement officials, but Ms. Sahaleh was not even given ample time and opportunity to mount a defense of herself.

Judgment

On May 23, 2004, the Town of Neka General Court, Branch One, sentenced Ms. Sahaleh to death by hanging in public. On July 3, 2004, Supreme Court Branch 32 upheld the death sentence and the Head of the Judiciary gave his consent to the implementation of said sentence.

At the gallows, at the moment she was about to be hanged, Ms. Sahaleh told the judge who had issued the sentence: “If you forgive me, I will never look into the eyes of a stranger as long as I live.”

On August 15, 2004, Ms. Atefeh Sahaleh (Razavi) was hanged in public in the Narenj Baq 30-meter [Street] neighborhood located in the town of Neka’s Rah Ahan Avenue.

Based on available information, Ms. Sahaleh’s family members had not been informed of the time and place of the hanging. Ms. Sahaleh’s father was not even able to see his daughter before the sentence was carried out (Mazandnume).

At the moment Ms. Sahaleh was about to be hanged, she gave all her money and possessions to two girls without guardian and turned to the judge in her case and said: “If you forgive me, I will never look into the eyes of a stranger as long as I live.” Then she turned to the crowd and said: “Forgive me!” (Iran newspaper, Mazandnume).

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[1] “Zina” is sexual relations between a man and a woman who are strangers to each other (outside the bonds of marriage), and, pursuant to the Islamic Penal Code, consists of two situations:
    1. Muhsen Zina (the equivalent of “adultery”) (the person who commits Zina is a man who has a permanent wife and has the possibility of having sexual relations with her) or Muhsena Zina (the person who commits Zina is a woman who has a permanent husband and has the possibility of having sexual relations with him);
    2. Non-Muhsen Zina (the equivalent of “fornication”, i.e. consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to each other) (the person who commits Zina is a man who does not have a permanent wife) or Non-Muhsena Zina (the person who commits Zina is a woman who does not have a permanent husband).
The Hadd punishment for Muhsen or Muhsena Zina is death by stoning, and the Hadd punishment for Non-Muhsin or Non-Muhsina Zina is 100 lashes.

[2] These regulations include:
    1. Special Police for Juvenile Offenders (Article 31 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): In order for law enforcement officers to properly carry out their duties regarding juveniles, a Special Police for Juvenile Offenders is hereby established within  the Islamic Republic of Iran Police Force…
    2. Opening a character profile on the juvenile (Article 286 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): [In crimes the punishment for which is death, …], it is mandatory for the prosecutor’s office or the Juvenile Court to open a character profile for the juvenile offender.
    3. The mandatory nature of the presence of an advisor in juvenile proceedings (Article 298 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): Juvenile Court shall convene with a judge and an advisor present.

[3] In the Islamic Penal Code, the means of proving Zina have been defined as follows:
    (1) Confession (the person who has committed Zina (who must be an adult, of sound mind, and independent) must confess four times before the judge); and
    (2) Testimony (the testimony of four just men, or three just men and two just women, is necessary).

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